Motown, ASCAP Veteran James Fisher Dies at 89 Due to Coronavirus

John Marshall

James Fisher, Malcolm Buckland and Ed Bicknell at the 2007 Roll of Honour event.

James Fisher, whose extensive music industry career included senior international posts at Motown Records and ASCAP as well as a key role at the Music Managers Forum, died on April 3 in London after complications with coronavirus. He was 89.

Born in Perth, Australia, Fisher worked initially in radio and television there, and read the first news bulletin broadcast by the ABC-TV network in his hometown on May 7, 1960. The following year, he emigrated to the U.K. and was employed by Independent Television News as a newscaster. In 1965, Fisher joined the BBC as continuity editor for its radio networks, and later as presentation editor for BBC Radio 1 and 2. In that role, Fisher recruited then-pirate radio broadcasters Noel Edmunds and Kenny Everett for voiceovers and links.

In 1970, Fisher formed an independent label and publishing firm, Very Good Music. It was subsequently acquired by RCA Records, where he was appointed as manager of international marketing and worked with the likes of David Bowie, Sweet and David Cassidy.

In 1977, Fisher was appointed general manager of Motown Records' London-based international division, supervising all the company's European activities, including artist liaison for concert and promotional tours. In a recent interview, he remembered an occasion when Marvin Gaye, then living in London, called for help after stuffing an entire bunch of bananas down his apartment's toilet. "Heaven only knows why," Fisher said. "I had to get him out of that place, they wanted him gone."

Fisher's subsequent experience included ten years as U.K. regional director for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and a further ten as general secretary of the International Managers Forum, later to become the Music Managers Forum (MMF). He retired from the latter post in 2002.

"James was the friendliest, sweetest, kindest, most generous man you can imagine," said MMF founding chair Dennis Muirhead. "He was introduced to me by his long standing friend and one of my partners at Simons Muirhead & Burton, Patricia Negus-Fancey, who is no longer with us."

Muirhead added that at the time of Fisher's hiring, the MMF had been struggling to establish itself. "James had retired from ASCAP and was respected by everyone in the music industry, just what the MMF needed," he said.

Fisher was for 35 years in a relationship with Nigel Roberts, with whom he entered a civil partnership in April 2006, and who survives him.