Ken Pedersen, Veteran Capitol and Virgin Records Executive, Dies at 63

Ken Pedersen
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Ken Pedersen and his wife Maggie attend a cocktail party honoring Columbia College Chicago Alumni and its 2004 Emmy Nominees on September 11, 2004 at the home of Gary and Shelly Belz in Encino, California.

Veteran label executive Ken Pedersen died of sepsis brought on by non-COVID-related pneumonia on March 18, his family has revealed. He was 63.

Pedersen is best known for serving as CFO of Capitol Records and executive vp at Virgin Records, where he was one of the principal architects of the Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation series in the U.S. During his time at Virgin, he also brokered a blockbuster $80 million, four-album contract renewal with Janet Jackson.

In a statement given to Malibu Surfside News, Peter Knee, who worked with Pedersen at EMI Music London, called Pedersen “one of the commercially smartest people I have ever met, because unlike most accountants, he had a wonderful intuition in understanding what would work for the other party in order to secure agreement.”

In the same story, Pedersen’s EMI coworker Adrian Cheesley also remembered the late executive.

“Ken was a charming, intelligent and lovely guy with a gung-ho attitude - we called him affectionately ‘the Dude’ - and, as well as being my boss, we became firm friends, often travelling together to EMI companies around the world until he got asked to step in as acting CFO at Capitol in L.A., a very senior role for his age at the time. Ken was a great friend to have and we will badly miss his good humor, warmth and upbeat personality.”

Born in Santa Monica and raised in Ontario, California, Pedersen began his career as an accountant at Ernst & Whitney before moving to Capitol Records, where he was hired as director of internal audit in 1987. He served in the same role at EMI London beginning in 1989 before returning to Capitol as interim CFO. In 1991, he returned to EMI London to serve as CFO and was part of the company’s acquisition team when it acquired Virgin Records in 1992. He later moved into an executive vp position at Virgin, a role he served in for nearly 10 years.

It was at Virgin where Pedersen began his foray into world and new age music, overseeing and facilitating the acquisitions of Virgin sub-labels including David Byrne’s Luaka Bop, Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records and Narada Productions . He also served as a key architect behind the successful CD compilation series Pure Moods, a kind of Now That’s What I Call Music! for world, new age, smooth jazz and ambient artists. Additionally, he launched Virgin’s Americana/roots rock sub-label Back Porch Records, which signed artists including Cracker and Over the Rhine.

Pedersen continued in the world music vein after departing Virgin in 2002. That same year, he founded New River Company, a label consortium and joint venture between Virgin and Narada that signed acts including the all-woman Chinese music group 12 Girls Band. He later held roles at insurance company CRC Group and nanotechnology company Xurex.

Pedersen is survived by his wife, Maggie Pedersen; sons Owen Pedersen and Nick Rapp; mother Jan Pedersen and sister Kathy Pedersen Nadler. His father Kenneth G. Pedersen and brother Daniel S. Pedersen preceded him in death.

Additional reporting by Barbara Burke. 

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