John Hammond (1910-1987)

Allen Ginsberg and John Hammond Sr. together on 57th Street, June 20, 1984,  New York City. Photo: Hank O’Neal

John Hammond Sr, legendary record-producer, producer of Allen’s First Blues, was born on this day (December 15)

First Blues Hammond Sessions 1976

“I’d visited John Hammond at his CBS office with the Dylan tapes, First Blues book, and Blake music tapes. At the end of the Rolling Thunder tour, he offered to produce an album, so we recorded with the musicians already familiar with my tunes.”

John Hammond ( in 1983):

“Allen Ginsberg is not only one of the world’s best poets, but one of its finest citizens as well. Long impressed with his music abilities  – I recorded Allen in 1976 but Columbia Records refused to issue the results, considering the songs obscene and disrespectful. I am thrilled to be able to finally present Allen on my own label, not only the 1976 sessions but those from 1971 and 1981 as well. I will present “disrespectful” music like this as often as possible.”

John Hammond’s politics were a singular bond – a life-time progressive, a central figure in the struggle for social justice.

Louis Proyect writing on “Jazz and Radical Politics”:

“Although.. never a member of the Communist Party, he was probably the best-known left-wing figure in the jazz community of the 1930s and ’40s. As a record producer, a Nation magazine contributor and a board member of the NAACP, he fought against segregation both within the jazz world and in American society as a whole.”

John Hammond speaks on the Scottsboro Boys and other civil rights cases  (oral history for the Robert F Wagner Labor Archives)  – here 

Hammond was personally responsible for discovering an extraordinary roster of names  Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and that’s not all.

Listen to his legendary 1938 “From Spirituals to Swing” concert – here 

Benny Carter, George Benson, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones,Milt Hinton, Red Norvo, and Benny Morten were part of a 1975 ‘all-star” tribute to Hammond – see here

Hart Perry‘s 1991 PBS American Masters documentary  John Hammond – From Bessie Smith to Bruce Springsteen is an invaluable and inspiring introduction to a remarkable life

“Few people outside the music industry know his name but John Hammond, though not himself a professional musician exerted greater influence on America’s cultural life, and by extension the world, than most performers. Hammond had a genius for discovering and nurturing talent. His interest in black artists proved contagious. By introducing them into the mainstream, he permanently changed the face of contemporary music.”

Ahmet Ertegun (inducting him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986) – “He didn’t just change the industry, he changed the world”

Dunstan Prial 2006 biography, The Producer John Hammond and the Soul of American Music is a well-researched and illuminating read

Here’s the New York Times review of it
Dunstan Prial is interviewed about Hammond 
here’s an excerpt  – “When John Hammond “discovered” Billie Holiday” 

Denis Munday – John Hammond – The Most Influential Music Man of the Twentieth Century
Paul Sexton – An Unfailing Ear – The Impeccable Taste of John Hammond Snr.
Frank Beacham’s birthday greeting (from last year)

We’re happy to salute a great man on the anniversary of his birthday  (and a shout-out too to his illustrious son!)

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