John H. Hammond

John H. Hammond

John Henry Hammond II (December 15, 1910July 10, 1987) was a record producer, musician and music critic from the 1930s to the early 1980s. In his service as a talent scout, Hammond became one of the most influential figures in 20th Century popular music.

Although he did not "discover" as many artists as is generally claimed, Hammond was instrumental in sparking or furthering numerous musical careers, including those of Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Big Joe Turner, Pete Seeger, Babatunde Olatunji, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Freddie Green, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Asha Puthli and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Early years and family

Hammond was the only son of James Henry Hammond, son of General John Henry Hammond and Sophia Vernon Wolfe. James was a brother of Ogden Hammond, ambassador to Spain, and uncle to politician Millicent Fenwick. Hammond's mother was the former Miss Emily Vanderbilt Sloane, one of three daughters of William Douglas Sloane and Emily Thorn Vanderbilt. James Hammond and Emily Sloane were wed on April 5, 1899. They also had a daughter, Alice Frances Hammond, who married firstly George Arthur Victor Duckworth, MP, in 1927, and secondly musician Benny Goodman, in 1942.

Born in New York City to great wealth as the great-grandson of William Henry Vanderbilt, Hammond showed interest in music at an early age. At age four he began studying the piano, only to switch to the violin at age eight. He was steered toward classical music by his mother, but was more interested in the music sung and played by the servants, many of whom were black. In his teens he began listening to black musicians in Harlem, who adopted him as a novel mascot, [ [ The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of American Music: Books: Dunstan Prial ] ] and in 1927 heard Bessie Smith sing at the Alhambra Theater, a performance which influenced the rest of his life.

In 1928 Hammond entered Yale University as a member of the class of 1933, where he studied the violin and, later, viola. He made frequent trips into New York and wrote regularly for trade magazines. In 1931 he dropped out of school for a career in the music industry, first becoming the U.S. correspondent for "Melody Maker".


In 1931 he funded the recording of pianist Garland Wilson, marking the beginning of a long string of artistic successes as record producer. He moved to Greenwich Village, where he claimed to have engaged in bohemian life and worked for an integrated music world. He set up one of the first regular live jazz programs, and wrote regularly about the racial divide. As he wrote in his memoirs, ["John Hammond On Record: An Autobiography", ISBN 0-671-40003-7] "I heard no color line in the music....To bring recognition to the negro’s supremacy in jazz was the most effective and constructive form of social protest I could think of." It should be noted that Hammond was given to exaggeration when speaking of his own achievements, but he had much to be acclaimed for.

By 1932–1933, through his involvement in the UK music paper Melody Maker, Hammond arranged for the faltering US Columbia label to provide recordings for the UK Columbia label, mostly using the Columbia W-265000 matrix series. Hammond recorded Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Joe Venuti, and other jazz performers during a time when the economy was bad enough that many of them would not have had the opportunity to enter a studio and play real jazz.

He played a role in organizing Benny Goodman's band, and in persuading him to hire black musicians such as Charlie Christian, Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. In 1933 he heard the 17 year old Billie Holiday perform in Harlem and arranged for her recording debut, on a Benny Goodman session. Four years later, he heard the Count Basie orchestra broadcasting from Kansas City and brought it to New York, where it began to receive national attention. In 1938, he organized the first "From Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall, presenting a broad program of blues, jazz and gospel artists, including Ida Cox, Big Joe Turner, Albert Ammons, Meade "Lux" Lewis, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Count Basie orchestra, Sidney Bechet, Sonny Terry, James P. Johnson, and Big Bill Broonzy (who took the place of the murdered Robert Johnson).

After serving in the military during World War II, Hammond felt unmoved by the bebop jazz scene of the mid-1940s. Rejoining Columbia Records in the late 1950s, he signed Pete Seeger and Babatunde Olatunji to the label, and also discovered Aretha Franklin, then an eighteen year-old gospel singer. In 1961, he heard folk singer Bob Dylan playing harmonica on a session for Carolyn Hester and signed him to Columbia and kept him on the label despite the protests of executives, who referred to Dylan as "Hammond’s folly." He produced Dylan's early recordings, "Blowin' in the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall."

John Hammond also oversaw the highly influential posthumous reissues of Robert Johnson’s recorded work (produced by Frank Driggs), convincing Columbia Records to issue the album "King of the Delta Blues Singers" in 1961. [] Artists Hammond signed to the label included Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen.

Hammond retired from Columbia in 1975, but continued to scout for talent. In 1983, he brought guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan to Columbia and was credited as executive producer on his debut album.


Hammond received a Grammy Trustees Award for being credited with co-producing a Bessie Smith reissue in 1971, and in 1986 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He died in 1987 after a series of strokes. He was the father of John P. Hammond (better known as John Hammond Jr.), a noted blues musician and singer, and Jason Hammond.


External links

* [ John Hammond] on "American Masters" (PBS)
* [ Induction to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame]


*John Hammond with Irving Townsend (1977) "John Hammond On Record: An Autobiography", Ridge Press - Summit Books, ISBN 0-671-40003-7
*Dunstan Prial (2006) "The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of American Music", Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN 0-374-11304-1

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