Barbara Skydel, a veteran New York booking agent has died, Billboard has confirmed. The cause of her death and age were unknown at press time.
Skydel began her career in the music business in 1968 as the assistant to pioneering agent Frank Barsalona, who had opened his New York-based Premier Talent Agency just four years earlier. By 1969, Skydel was an agent, receiving her trial by fire on a West Coast run by Led Zeppelin.
“That was quite a thing for a young kid,” she told Billboard in 2007. “I don’t even think I told my father where I was going or what I was doing, because he never really understood what the hell I did.”
As an agent at Premier, Skydel learned the ropes of the touring business from Barsalona, who basically created the regional promoter model, building acts with the promoters in each market. Soon most of the biggest names in ’70s-’80s rock gravitated to the agency. Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, the J. Geils Band, Grand Funk Railroad, U2, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Van Halen and others signed to the most impressive roster in rock, and Premier suddenly had huge leverage and influence. Skydel soaked it all in.
“I learned at the master’s feet, although, actually, it was not at his feet,” Skydel said. “He was so ahead of his time as far as recognizing a woman. We were a team like I don’t think has ever existed before. I listened in on every phone call, I was in every single meeting with him. His integrity was probably one of the most important lessons for any young kid to absorb.”
Skydel became executive VP at Premier in 1977. And by 1985 she was a partner at the juggernaut agency, becoming the first female principal of a major talent firm.
The clout and respect Premier had earned within the industry is well-evidenced by a 70-plus-page special in the Aug. 18, 1984, issue of Billboard honoring Premier’s 20th anniversary. In addition to pages and pages of ads from major artists and industry players, the special boasts editorial input from all the major promoters of the day, including the late Bill Graham, and other such luminaries as managers Jon Landau, Elliott Hoffman and Peter Rudge. In the special, U2’s Bono weighed in thusly: “Uncle Frank and Aunty Barbara always looked after us in America, from the days when were just paddies fresh off the boat.”
In March 2002, Barsalona merged his Premier with the William Morris Agency, and after serving as a WMA consultant, he retired from the business. Premier brought to WMA such acts as Roger Waters, the Who, Keith Richards, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Pretenders, Sinéad O’Connor, Pete Townshend, Bob Geldof, Marianne Faithful, Sebastian Bach, Greg Lake, and Suzanne Vega.
“When Premier ended, it was the end of an era. But the era in a way ended with MTV; when [careers] became based more on the hit single and a song, it became visually what the act looked like,” Skydel said. “It wasn’t just based on the music, it was based on a video that might have made much more of an act that couldn’t deliver in person. The dynamic changed with the onset of MTV, and I have to say that Frank recognized that immediately.
“We had a long run together,” Skydel continued. “We had a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, we had crazy times, we traveled the world together, and he was very generous in his philosophy, not only to me.”
Following the merger, Skydel was named senior VP within the WMA music division in New York. Skydel remained with the talent firm through its merger with Endeavor in 2009. Some of her clients included Tom Petty, the Pretenders, Marianne Faithfull, the Who, Keith Richards, and Suzanne Vega.
Among her awards are the 2000 Touchstone Award for “Women in Music”; Billboard’s Agent of the Year, in 1977; and Performance magazine readers’ poll’s Agent of the Year, five times.