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For decades, Billboard has covered the most important people in the music industry, from major artists to top executives to behind-the-scenes forces. So it's no surprise that many of those people -- eager to get a front-row seat to the industry -- spent key years of their careers at Billboard. Whether they worked for the magazine as assistants or top editors, these alumni became powerhouses in music, publishing and beyond.
Jimmy Buffett: Before he became the mayor of Margaritaville, Billboard's most famous alumnus worked as a Nashville correspondent from 1969 to 1970, just before releasing his debut album, Down to Earth. Among the concerts he reviewed was Isaac Hayes at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium, of which he wrote: “The Hot Buttered Soul man combined his songs and his keyboard work on both organ and piano with a full and powerful voice range that created a style [that] was truly his own.”
Jerry Wexler: Best known for shaping the careers of icons like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Led Zeppelin and others as an Atlantic Records executive, Wexler broke into the music business in 1947 with a gig at BMI writing continuity copy for radio stations. Later that year, he began a four-year stint at Billboard, where he famously rechristened the magazine's "Race Records" chart as "Rhythm & Blues" and set the stage for his historic run at Atlantic. Al Bell, a former co-owner of the Atlantic-distributed Stax label, recalls with a laugh that he and Wexler “both claimed coming up with the term ‘soul.’ Asked to speak at an event for him once, I told Jerry it doesn’t matter who said it … we did accelerate the growth of this music.”
Seymour Stein: The Sire Records founder and former Warner Bros. Records vice president signed such legends as Madonna and The Cure during his storied career. As a teen, he worked after school at Billboard, helping to compile the just-launched Billboard Hot 100 and sitting in on meetings to decide which records to review. “I look at my schooling as, in part, my early years at Billboard,” he told the magazine in 2016. “[Former editor] Paul Ackerman invited me to attend these music review sessions on Wednesday nights and even provided me with a due-bill to stay at one of the hotels close to the Billboard offices... that way I could get up and take the subway to Lafayette High School in Brooklyn."
Kara DioGuardi: Before scoring hits as a songwriter with stars like P!nk and Kelly Clarkson, DioGuardi was the executive assistant to Billboard president Howard Lander and editor-in-chief Timothy White in the mid-’90s. “[Former dance editor] Larry Flick dubbed me ‘Runway,’ ” recalls DioGuardi, who also was an American Idol judge for two seasons. “He said I used to walk up the aisles of the office ordering people to do things. I worked for the boss, so that was kind of my job.”
Israel Horowitz: A pioneer in covering the business side of music, Horowitz joined Billboard in 1948 and left a few years later to work at Decca, where he helped establish both the label and classical music itself as industry forces. He rejoined Billboard in 1973, later becoming a top editor. Recalls former staffer Geoff Mayfield, who worked with Horowitz from 1985 through Horowitz’s retirement in 1994 and acknowledges him as one of his mentors: “It felt like a luxury to get insights on the economics and politics of a distributor’s revised functional discount policy from a man who had been the producer of choice for Grammy-winning classical guitar pioneer Andrés Segovia.”
Danny Goldberg: When he was 19, Goldberg -- who went on to lead multiple record labels and manage the likes of Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Hole -- got a dream assignment: covering Woodstock for Billboard. At the time, he had a clerical job at the magazine and had picked up writing assignments on the side. “They asked me if I wanted to go on short notice, but it was an instantaneous yes,” he recalled earlier this year. “I felt like, ‘I’m the young person. I’m supposed to speak for us. … These older writers don’t get it.’ ”
Timothy White: Billboard’s editor-in-chief from 1991 to 2002, Timothy White arrived at the magazine already a music journalism rock star. A Fordham University graduate and former Associated Press reporter, White had been a senior editor at Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone, the host of a syndicated radio program and author of the acclaimed biography Catch A Fire: The Life of Bob Marley. (Biographies of the Beach Boys and James Taylor, among other books, followed during his Billboard tenure). He received a Grammy Heroes award from the New York chapter of the Recording Academy in 1999; three years later, he suffered a fatal heart attack at Billboard’s New York office, just as the magazine was going to press. “Timothy White was one-of-a-kind,” recalls Don Henley of the Eagles. “He not only brought great writing to Billboard, he brought true passion for music and deep insights into the artists, themselves. He always placed craft above commerciality, but also realized that those two things were not mutually exclusive. He championed the artist. During his tenure, he was literally the conscience of the magazine.”
Nelson George: George’s “tons of memories” begin with an initial stint as an intern in 1978, writing stories for Billboard’s talent and disco sections. He joined the staff fulltime in 1982 as the magazine’s black music editor. Over the next seven years, George chronicled a scene that included the beginnings of hip-hop and the emergence of Michael Jackson, Prince and Whitney Houston. A co-producer of Netflix’s The Black Godfather, a documentary about music industry pioneer Clarence Avant, George is also a renowned author (Where Did Our Love Go: The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound; The Death of Rhythm & Blues). “Almost everything I do is inspired by my work at Billboard,” says George. “It’s still informing my life.”
Susan Mazo: Before becoming svp, global CSR, events and special projects at UMG, Mazo worked as an assistant to then-editor Timothy White and Howard Lander in the late ‘90s. Mazo recalls high-profile artists like Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp and Sheryl Crow calling in directly to White, and she credits him with helping her figure out the future direction of her career. She also notes how the team felt like a family, both figuratively and literally -- she met her husband of now more than 20 years while working for Billboard. “Going to Billboard felt like coming home,” she says. “All of my building blocks go back to my world at Billboard and who I met there. It changed my world.”
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Billboard.
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