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John Hammond (producer)

For other people named John Hammond, see John down to his basement to listen to the upbeat music in the
Hammond (disambiguation).
servants quarters. He loved Sir Harry Lauders Roamin'
in the Gloamin'". While he was in the basement, the rest
John Henry Hammond II (December 15, 1910 July of his family in the greater part of the ve-story mansion
would listen to the great opera tenor Enrico Caruso, as
10, 1987) was an American record producer, civil rights
activist and music critic from the 1930s to the early well as to[1]standard classics by Beethoven, Brahms, and
1980s. In his service as a talent scout, Hammond became
one of the most inuential gures in 20th century popular Hammond became interested in social reform at a young
age. His mother had a large interest in social reform as a
Hammond was instrumental in sparking or furthering means to give back some of her fortune to the community.
numerous musical careers, including those of Bob Dy- She often found solace in religion. Hammond shared
lan, Bruce Springsteen, Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Big
Joe Turner, Pete Seeger, Babatunde Olatunji, Aretha
Franklin, George Benson, Freddie Green, Leonard Cohen, Arthur Russell, Jim Copp, Asha Puthli and Stevie
Ray Vaughan. He is also largely responsible for the revival of delta blues artist Robert Johnson's music.

Ironically, Hammond notes that the rst jazz music that

he was exposed to was in London on a trip with his family
in 1923. He heard a band called The Georgians, a Caucasian Dixieland jazz group, and saw a Negro show called
From Dixie to Broadway, that featured Sidney Bechet.
This trip changed the way that he saw music. Upon his
return to the states, he searched for records by Negro musicians but could not nd them in the greater Manhattan
area. He learned the Negro music was sold in dierent
stores, so he began to search for this music in Harlem.[2]

Early years and family

Hammond was christened John Henry Hammond, Jr., although both his father and grandfather shared the same
name. He was the youngest child and only son of John
Henry Hammond. His father attended Yale University,
graduating with a law degree from Columbia Law School.
His grandfather was Civil War General John Henry Hammond, who married Sophia Vernon Wolfe. His father was
a brother of Ogden H. Hammond, ambassador to Spain,
and uncle to politician Millicent Fenwick. Despite the
family fortune from his mothers side of the family, his
father worked to provide for his family and maintain the
family fortune. He worked in various jobs as a banker,
lawyer, and railroad executive.[1]

In 1925 Hammond graduated from St. Bernards School

at the age of 14. He persuaded his family to allow him
to attend Hotchkiss School due to its liberal curriculum.
Hammonds love for music ourished. However, he felt
limited within the connes of a boarding school. Hammond even succeeded in convincing the headmaster to
allow him to go into the city every other weekend, a rare
privilege, so that he could take lessons from Ronald Murat. However, the headmaster was not aware that outside of his formal lessons, he would sneak o to Harlem
to hear the jazz music. During this time, he states that
he heard the music of Bessie Smith at The Harlem Alhambra, although this claim has been disputed by Smiths

Hammonds mother was the former Emily Vanderbilt

Sloane, one of three daughters of William Douglas Sloane
and Emily Thorn Vanderbilt. John H. Hammond, Sr. and
Emily Sloane were wed on April 5, 1899. They also had
four daughters: Emily, Adele, Rachel, and Alice, who
married musician Benny Goodman in 1942.

Hammond, the summer after graduating from Hotchkiss

in 1929, went to work for a newspaper in Maine, the Portland Evening News, whose editor Ernest Gruening was
also a Hotchkiss alumnus, class of 1903, interested in social issues and social justice.[1][3]
In the fall of 1929, Hammond entered Yale University as
a member of the class of 1933, where he studied the violin and, later, viola. He felt a disconnect with his fellow
students at Yale and saw himself as a man already well acquainted with the professional world. He made frequent
trips into New York and wrote regularly for trade magazines. In the fall semester of 1930, Hammond had to

Born in New York to great wealth as the great-grandson

of William Henry Vanderbilt, Hammond showed interest
in music from 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. He was known to go

withdraw due to a re-occurring case of jaundice. Hammond had no desire to a repeat a semester, which contributed to his dissatisfaction with the university lifestyle.
Much to the disappointment of his father, a Yale alum,
in 1931 he dropped out of school for a career in the music industry, rst becoming the U.S. correspondent for
Melody Maker.[1]


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 rst regular live jazz programs, and wrote regularly
about the racial divide. As he wrote in his memoirs,[4] I
heard no color line in the music.... To bring recognition
to the negros supremacy in jazz was the most eective
and constructive form of social protest I could think of.
This pre-occupation with social issues was to continue,
and in 1941 he was one of the founders of the Council
on African Aairs. Hammond was given to exaggeration
when speaking of his own achievements, but he had much
to be acclaimed for.


sicians in Harlem as to connect with musicians in their

own area. While initially his race proved a problem in
connecting with this community, he formed relationships
with various musicians that allowed him to surpass this
barrier. His friendship with Benny Carter gave him a
status in this area that allowed him to enter this musical
He played a role in organizing Benny Goodmans band,
and in persuading him to hire black musicians such as
Charlie Christian, Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton.
In 1933 he heard the seventeen-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.[6]
In 1938, he organized the rst 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). He coordinated a second From Spirituals to
Swing concert in 1939.[7]
After serving in the military during World War II, Hammond felt unmoved by the bebop jazz scene of the mid1940s. Rejoining Columbia Records in the late 1950s,
he signed Pete Seeger and Babatunde Olatunji to the label, and discovered Aretha Franklin,[8] then an eighteenyear-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
Hammonds folly.[9] He produced Dylans early recordings, "Blowin' in the Wind" and "A Hard Rains a-Gonna

In 1932, Hammond acquired a nonpaying job on the

WEVD radio station as a disc jockey. Hammond did not
discriminate when choosing which musicians to air; in
fact, the station allowed Hammond complete freedom on
the station as long as he paid for his time slot. Through
this position, Hammond gained a reputation as a welleducated jazz fan. Various musicians were guests on
his show, including, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter,
and Art Tatum. When the station transferred from the
Broadway Central Hotel to the Claridge Hotel, the new
venue would not allow the black musicians to use the main
elevator. For this reason, Hammond quit his work with What I wanted to do with Bobby was just to get him to
sound in the studio as natural, just as he was in person,
By 193233, through his involvement in the UK mu- and have that extraordinary personality come thru.... Afsic paper Melody Maker, Hammond arranged for the fal- ter all, hes not a great harmonica player, and hes not a
tering US Columbia label to provide recordings for the great guitar player, and hes not a great singer. He just
UK Columbia label, mostly using the specially created happens to be an original. And I just wanted to have that
Columbia W-265000 matrix series. Hammond recorded originality come thru.[9]
Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Joe Venuti, and other John Hammond on Bob Dylan, 1968 Pop Chronicles
jazz performers during a time when the economy was bad interview.[10]
enough that many of them would not have had the opportunity to enter a studio and play real jazz (a handful of
Hammond oversaw the highly inuential posthumous
these in this special series were issued in the US).
reissues of Robert Johnson's recorded work (produced by
In 1934, Hammond is known to have introduced Benny Frank Driggs), convincing Columbia Records to issue the
Goodman and Fletcher Henderson. It is said that Ham- album King of the Delta Blues Singers in 1961.[11] Mumond convinced the musicians to 'swing' the current jazz sicians Hammond signed to the label included Leonard
hits, so that they could play in a free manner like the orig- Cohen and Bruce Springsteen.[12]
inal New Orleans Jazz.[5]
Hammond retired from Columbia in 1975, but continued
Hammond always strived for racial integration within the to scout for talent. In 1983, he brought guitarist Stevie
musical scene. For this purpose, he frequently visited mu-

Ray Vaughan to Columbia and was credited as executive nine boys were convicted, Hammond viewed this trial as
producer on his debut album.
a catalyst for black activism.[1]

Personal accounts

Hammond recognized jazz music to have originated as

an African-American musical genre. For this reason, he
generally preferred African-American musicians to Caucasian musicians. Hammond even writes that whites,
such as the members of the Original Dixieland Jass Band,
stole this musical form from Negro musicians when they
released the rst jazz records.[2]
When Hammond entered the jazz community, integration had not yet begun. Black and white musicians rarely
played together and often the prestigious locations only
permitted white audiences. Hammond remembers that
before the 1920s, black musicians could always nd jobs,
even if they were low paying. After the instatement of
Local 802, a union of professional musicians within New
York City, Hammond saw more whites receiving jobs
than blacks. However, this did not stop the AfricanAmerican musicians. Through burlesque and record
making, these musicians continued to be a presence.[2]

Record integration became an important component of

jazz music. Starting in 1935, musicians began to record
in mixed-race groups. While some of this integration
had already taken place, Hammond remembers it as being hidden. However, in 1935, the Goodman Trio began
recording. In 1936, the group appeared in a live concert
at the Chicago Hot Jazz Society. Hammond fondly remembers this as an innovative moment in jazz history.[2]

4 FBI investigation
J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director, investigated Hammonds
link to the Communist Party. Due to the various benets
and fund-raisers that Hammond hosted for the popular
front, his name was often listed in The Daily Worker, a
communist newspaper. Furthermore, his name often appeared on the letterheads of left-wing organizations for
which he was a donor or member. However, Hammond
was not a communist.[1]

1933 was a dening year for Hammond. He remembers

this year being extraordinary due to his establishment of
relationships with British record companies. Hammond
was able to secure contracts for various musicians. He
was an attractive producer to these companies because
he did not desire a prot for himself. In 1933, he helped
Benny Goodman receive a record deal with Columbia
Records, which at the time was only known as English
Columbia. During this time, Goodman was in need of a
big break, as he was getting a reputation as being dicult
to work with. Hammond proposed that Goodman produce a multiracial record; however, Goodman believed
this route would hurt his musical reputation.[1]

5 Personal life

Furthermore, in this year, he broke out of the traditional

role of a producer and became a talent scout, after hearing Billie Holiday. He remarks that he was astounded to
discover that she was the daughter of Clarence Holiday
from Fletcher Henderson's band. That same year, he was
able to get her involved in the Benny Goodman Orchestra.[2] Hammond attributes fate to his nding of Holiday.
After hearing her sing for the rst time, he wrote, She
weighs over 200 pounds, is incredibly beautiful, and sings
as well as anybody I have ever heard.[1]

In 1942, Hammond took his wife on a road trip to Los

Angeles. Shortly after this trip, Jemy realized that she was
pregnant. In November 1942, Jemy gave birth to their
rst son, John P. Hammond.[1]

Later in 1933, he heard Teddy Wilson, a jazz pianist, on

the Chicago radio. While he did not discover him, he
was able to provide signicant opportunities for him, even
some collaboration with Billie Holiday.[2]

In November 1943, Hammond began military training.

He underwent his basic training at Fort Belvoir. Hammond was much older than the majority of the other men,
and he had a rough time adjusting to the military life.
While he was still in basic training, Jemy gave birth to
their second child, Douglas, early in 1944. Douglas came
down with a serious illness. While Jemy sent Hammond
a telegram to alert him of his newborns condition, Hammond stated that he never received it. Jemy speculated

Hammonds work with civil rights came from multiple angles. In 1933, he traveled South to attend a trial regarding
the Scottsboro case, a case in which two white girls accused nine black boys of raping them. The testimonies
of the two girls did not align with the story. While the all

John had four sisters: Alice, Rachel, Adele, and Emily.

Early in his career, Hammond focused more on his work
than his love life. While he was seen publicly with various
women, the relationships were never substantial. However, in 1940 at a Manhattan party, Hammond met Jemison Jemy McBride. On March 8, 1941, Hammond
married Jemy in New Haven, Connecticut. The couple
had a small, non-denominational wedding with only about
ten guests. Although both sets of parents approved of the
couple, neither set attended the wedding.[1]

On March 21, 1942, Hammonds sister, Alice married

Benny Goodman. She had previously been married to
George Duckworth. Hammond did not look kindly upon
this marriage. Hammond and Goodman had a falling
out, some of which has been attributed to their diering

that Hammond was in a concert and disregarded the letter; however, that claim has been proven unlikely due
to Hammonds strict schedule in basic training. Douglas
died shortly after birth from his illness, and Jemy had to
undergo the family tragedy without her husband. Hammond returned after basic training on a three-day pass,
but he and his wife were distant.[1]


ing credited with co-producing a Bessie Smith reissue in

1971, and in 1986 was inducted into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame.
Hammonds son, John P. Hammond, became an American Blues musician.

Hammond was one of the original men to racially integrate the music industry. Before the Civil Rights Act
After basic training, Hammond reported to Camp passed, Tom Wilson, an African American, replaced
Plauche, where he was placed to organize activities for Hammond as Bob Dylan's record producer. There was
the black soldiers. During this time period, African- no uproar in regards to this replacement.[1]
American soldiers were given little to do within the military. There was still a large amount of racism in the military at this time. Hammond began his eorts by organizing concerts for the soldiers featuring African-American 7 References
musicians. Hammond noted that shortly after this these
concerts began, an integrated sports team formed. To- [1] Dunstan Prial (2006) The Producer: John Hammond and
ward the end of World War II, Hammond was transferred
the Soul of American Music, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
to Fort Benning, known for its intense racism. HamISBN 0-374-11304-1
mond was not the only jazz aliate irritated with racism.
During this time period, bebop music grew out of late [2] John Hammond, An Experience in Jazz History, in
Dominique-Ren de Lerma, ed., Black Music in Our Culnight jam sessions of black musicians. Hammond was
ture: Curricular Ideas on the Subjects, Materials, and Probnot much a part of the bebop movement, but he shared
lems (Kent State University Press, 1970), pp. 4253.
the sentiment against racism.
In 1946, Hammond was discharged from the military.
His family moved to Greenwich Village, where Jemy gave
birth to their third son, Jason. Hammond threw himself
back into his work, which greatly upset his wife. In 1948,
Jemy asked Hammond for a divorce. While he was originally reluctant, Hammond agreed to the divorce. Jemy
never remarried.[1]
Just a year later, in 1949, Hammond met Esme Sarno,
originally Esme O'Brien, the former wife of NBC chairman Robert W. Sarno and a daughter of Mary and Esmond O'Brien. Esme shared Hammonds musical passion and was planning to divorce her husband. That
year, Hammond married Esme Sarno. By this marriage
Hammond had one stepdaughter, (Esme) Rosita Sarno
(born 1943). During this time, Hammonds father died
on a golf course. Left a widow, Emily Hammond became
infatuated with Frank Buchman.[1]

[3] Alumni Accomplishments: Ernest Gruening '03, The

Hotchkiss School
[4] John Hammond On Record: An Autobiography, ISBN 0671-40003-7
[5] Swing. The Subject Is Jazz. WNBC. New York, New
York, 1958. Television.
[6] John McDonough (December 15, 2010). John Hammond: The Ear Of An Oracle. NPR. Retrieved 201012-16.
[7] Berger, Edward. Hammond, John (Henry, Jr.)". The
New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. Web.
[8] Gilliland, John (1969). Show 52 The Soul Reformation: Phase three, soul music at the summit. [Part 8]
: UNT Digital Library (audio). Pop Chronicles.

In 1985, Hammond had his rst stroke. Although this impaired him physically, his wifes death truly aected his [9] Show 31 Ballad in Plain D: An introduction to the Bob
mentality. Esme Hammond was diagnosed with breast
Dylan era. [Part 1] : UNT Digital Library
cancer. While treatments worked for some time, she
died May 19, 1986[13] of complications of AIDS, which [10] Gilliland, John (1969). E-J interview index (audio). Pop
had been contracted from a blood transfusion. Hammond
died on July 10, 1987, after a series of strokes. It is said
that he died listening to the music of Billie Holiday.[1]


[12] Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.).
London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 239. CN

Johns Idea, originally titled I May Be Wrong Its [13] Esme Hammond, 66, A Prominent Socialite"; The New
York Times (May 22, 1986); Retrieved October 16, 2011.
Johns Idea, is a tribute to John Hammond written by
Count Basie.
Hammond received a Grammy Trustees Award for be-

[14] YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved 2014-05-21.

Berger, Edward. Hammond, John (Henry, Jr.)".
The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. Web.
Dunstan Prial (2006) The Producer: John Hammond
and the Soul of American Music, Farrar, Straus and
Giroux, ISBN 0-374-11304-1
John Hammond, An Experience in Jazz History,
in Dominique-Ren de Lerma, ed., Black Music in
Our Culture: Curricular Ideas on the Subjects, Materials, and Problems (Kent State University Press,
1970), pp. 4253.
John Hammond with Irving Townsend (1977) John
Hammond On Record: An Autobiography, Ridge
Press Summit Books, ISBN 0-671-40003-7
Swing. The Subject Is Jazz. WNBC. New York,
New York, 1958. Television.

External links
John Hammond on American Masters (PBS)
Induction to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
John Hammond Papers at Yale University Music Library
John Hammond (producer) interviewed on the Pop
Chronicles (1969)




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