Gene Rumsey, a veteran music business executive who held top posts at the Capitol-EMI and later Concord label groups, died Jan. 1 at age 67.
Rumsey died at home in Westlake Village, Calif. The cause of death was cancer, after a 13-year struggle with the disease.
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In the latter part of his career, Rumsey had held several prominent titles at Concord Music Group after leaving EMI to join the company in 2003, including general manager/COO; chief label officer and chief marketing officer; and president, Prestige.
Rumsey helped take Concord from $13 million in revenue, the rough annual income at the time he joined in 2003, to more than $100 million five years later, according to the company.
The exec is remembered by company insiders as being “intimately involved” in one of Concord’s greatest triumphs — the Ray Charles duets collection “Genius Loves Company,” which dominated the 2005 Grammys with eight awards, including album and record of the year, a rare sweep for a collection aimed at a more mature audience, as most of Concord’s output has been.
Rumsey was also instrumental in forging and/or growing Concord’s relationships with Amazon, Costco and Starbucks — especially the Hear Music joint venture with Starbucks, when the coffeehouse chain started selling third-party product in 2009, which included the signing of Paul McCartney as a Hear Music artist.
In 2007, he told Fortune about expanding the so-called adult market. “In my days at a major label, it was about radio, VH1 and MTV,” he said then. “Now the critical drivers for a company focused on the adult consumer and releasing quality music are CBS Sunday Morning, NPR, and PBS. PBS is our MTV.”
In 2013, Concord again had a huge Grammy presence, winning eight awards that year, including a surprise victory for Esperanza Spalding over Justin Bieber. “The fact that we are winning in these other categories beyond jazz isn’t an haphazard accident,” Rumsey said in a post-Grammys interview with Billboard. “We are sticking to a plan to focus on the adult market, which we feel is underserved. We have a handle on that market and we have expanded the musical range but we stay true to focus on that customer.”
Prior to being hired by Norman Lear to join Concord, Rumsey held titles at EMI in the ‘90s and early 2000s. He presided over sales and marketing campaigns for projects ranging from the Beatles’ “1” greatest hits collection to the “Now! That’s What I Call Music” series, which he helped introduce to America.
Rumsey started his music career working at Wee Three Records in Philadelphia in the early ’70s. Family members recall an early triumph of salesmanship — self-salesmanship — when Rumsey was ordered to cut his hair as a condition of being hired, which didn’t sit well with the young employee, who was still moonlighting in a band. The exec-to-be was able to “charm the owner” and get a singular exemption for his longer hair.
He joined Capitol Records as a merchandiser in the 1980s, left to join Schwartz Bros, as a sales rep, then returned to Capitol in that role. He eventually moved from Chicago and New York to L.A. as he was elevated to branch manager for Capitol-EMI Distribution on his way up the executive ladder.
Family members recall that one of Rumsey’s “mantras” was “No music, no life,” with a near-photographic recall of music release dates and the personal circumstances around those that made it clear his love of the medium went well beyond business considerations.
Rumsey is survived by his wife, Kathy; daughters Colleen Ponsot (Douglas) and Kelly McMahon (Nicholas); stepdaughters Shannon O’Connor and Lauren O’Connor; a sister, Mary Sharon Rumsey; and his former wife, Marie Provenzano.
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