Phil Ramone, the music producer whose pioneering work with a host of stars including Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Ray Charles and Billy Joel earned him the nickname “the Pope of Pop,” died on Saturday at the age of 79.
According to Billboard, Ramone had been hospitalized in late February with an aeortic aneurysm and died at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Ramone was born in South Africa in 1941 and he began playing the violin and piano when he was three years old. He came to New York City as a teenager to study violin at the Juliard School, but soon developed an interest and talent in the technical details of recording. He began working as a songwriter at the Brill Building, which brought him into contact with music-industry legends like Quincy Jones, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, and in 1959 he launched the A&R Recording studios.
Ramone earned his first Grammy in 1964 for engineering Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto’s bossa nova-jazz classic Getz/Gilberto, and would go on to earn 13 more (and 33 nominations). He produced Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, along with seven albums for Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra’s 1993 comeback album, Duets, and Ray Charles’ final album, Genius Loves Company. Other collaborators included Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Lesley Gore, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach. Among Ramone’s technical innovations, he is credited with helping popularize the compact disc.
“Our industry has lost an immense talent and a true visionary and genius,” Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, said in a statement. “Everyone who encountered Phil came away a better person for it, professionally and personally.”
Elton John described Ramone as “a friend, a musical genius and the most lovable person. It was a thrill for me to have worked with Phil, and I have so many wonderful memories.”
“What a heart break to all of us who knew him and loved him,” said Stevie Wonder. “What a great man, what a kind spirit, such an incredible producer. The star of stars behind the stars. Phil will be missed always.”