Veteran label executive, songwriter and producer Morty Craft, who worked with a young Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, as well as Herbie Hancock, Bob Crewe, Connie Francis, Conway Twitty and dozens of other artists, died Jan. 27 at the age of 101.
Born in Brockton, Mass., in 1920, Craft began his musical career as an arranger and a saxophonist/clarinetist during the Big Band era. He moved to New York after World War II and experienced success in a number of genres, including pop, doo-wop, rock, rockabilly and R&B.
In 1957, he started Lance Records, whose biggest success was the doo-wop hit “Alone (Why Must I Be)” by the Shepherd Sisters, which he co-wrote and produced. The song was later covered by Petula Clark.
The same year, Craft moved to MGM Records as recording chief and director of single record sales. While there, among the hits Craft helped propel included Francis’ classic “Who’s Sorry Now,” Shep Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater,” Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All in the Game” and Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.”
In 1959, Craft launched the short-lived Warwick Records with one of its earliest releases being the instrumental album Memories of Jolie by Morty Craft & His Singing Strings. The label was also home to what is believed to be Hancock’s first recorded appearance on an album with Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams.
Before the label shuttered in 1962, it also released music from Johnny and the Hurricanes, The String-A-Longs and The Tokens, who included a young Neil Sedaka in their lineup.
According to Peter Ames Carlin’s book, Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon, Craft signed a young Simon & Garfunkel to Melba Records and told the pair to keep working on their songs. Nine months later, Craft still didn’t hear a hit and dissolved the deal.
Other highlights in Craft’s decades-long career include producing “A Sunday Kind of Love” by The Harptones and “Church Bells May Ring” by the Willows.
Survivors include son Alan Craft and daughters Chris Weinberg, Carrie Craft and Tiffany Craft.