Music producer and innovator Phil Ramone dead at age 72
By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 6:36 PM EDT, Sat March 30, 2013
Los Angeles (CNN) -- Innovative music producer Phil Ramone, whose work with the major artists of the modern era won him 14 Grammys and prompted the nickname "Pope of Pop," died Saturday morning in a New York hospital, his son, Matt, told CNN.
The family did not immediately provide a cause of death. Ramone was 72.
Ramone's collaboration credits are a Who's Who of the music industry: Burt Bacharach, Bono, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder, to name a few.
"Our industry has lost an immense talent and a true visionary and genius," said Neil Portnow, president of The Recording Academy, which had given Ramone a Technical Grammy for his lifetime of innovative contributions to music.
Artists described Ramone with superlatives.
"This is so shocking. I just performed for his tribute in December," Franklin said in a statement. "Truly one of the great names in music has gone on, but the melodies will remain."
Said Billy Joel: "I always thought of Phil Ramone as the most talented guy in my band. ... The music world lost a giant today."
Ramone was "the star of stars behind the stars," Wonder said.
"What a great man, what a kind spirit, such an incredible producer," Wonder said. "Truly a tragic loss for us on earth but what a wonderful blessing for heaven."
Barbra Streisand recalled working with Ramone in 1967 when she did a free concert in New York's Central Park and noticed "his brilliance at capturing sound," she said. They worked on the film "A Star is Born" and later the soundtrack to "Yentl."
"Phil had impeccable musical taste, great ears and the most gentle way of bringing out the best in all the artists he worked with," Streisand said. "The monumental recordings he produced will endure for all time."
James Taylor called Ramone "a pioneer" and "a key player in the music of our time."
"He lit up any room he entered," Taylor said.
Jones said Ramone was a friend and collaborator for more than 50 years.
"Whenever I was in the studio recording, if Phil wasn't there by my side it would seem like one ingredient was missing," Jones said. "Today we lost one of the true musicians, innovators and geniuses of the record industry. His immense talents were only surpassed by the gigantic size of his heart."
Neil Sedaka said he was 16 years old when Ramone added the rhythm section to his demos, becoming his first two records, "Laura Lee" and "Snowtime."
"He knew how to get the most out of the artists he worked with," Sedaka said. "With his passing the record business lost one of the all time greats."
Elton John, who also worked with Ramone, called him "a friend, a musical genius and the most lovable person."
On Twitter, John Legend called Ramone a "legendary producer."
Singer-songwriter Rob Thomas tweeted: "we have lost one of music's greatest producers. a true pioneer and a great man."
Ramone made innovations to the compact discs and surround sound technologies, Portnow said.
He worked across all genres of music and served as chair of the board of trustees of The Recording Academy. At the time of his death, he was a board member of the Grammy Museum.
Ramone's collaboration with Ray Charles, Billy Joel and Paul Simon won a total of three Album Of The Year awards, and Ramone won Producer Of The Year (non-classical) in 1980, The Recording Academy said.
Ramone produced songs and entire soundtracks to several films, including "Flashdance," "Ghostbusters" and "Midnight Cowboy."
He worked on Broadway and off-Broadway productions, including "Chicago" and "The Wiz."
In television, he produced and supervised music for television specials such as the Oscars, Elton John at Radio City Music Hall, "The Jim Henson Hour" and "The Muppets at Walt Disney World."
According to Ramone's website listing technical innovations, he was the first to use a solid-state console for recording and mastering solid state records; to use a digital live recording for Billy Joel's "Songs in the Attic," "paving the way for the widespread use of the compact disc in the pop music world"; and to use the fiber optics system EDNet to record tracks in "real time" from different locations for Sinatra's Duets I and II.
In a 1996 interview with Billboard, Ramone described the "Pope of Pop" sobriquet as one he "can't take seriously."