Mo Ostin, legendary Warner Bros. Records chief, dead at 95

During Ostin's three-decade tenure, the label's roster included the likes of The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers and many more

Mo Ostin, who served as a top executive at Warner-Reprise Records for over three decades between the ’60s and ’90s, has died at the age of 95.

Ostin’s death was confirmed by Warner Records co-chairmen, CEO Aaron Bay-Schuck and COO Tom Corson, who wrote that the music industry figure passed away in his sleep on Sunday (July 31) from natural causes.

“Mo was one of the greatest record men of all time, and a prime architect of the modern music business. For Mo, it was always first and foremost about helping artists realize their vision,” Bay-Shuck and Corson said.

“One of the pivotal figures in the evolution of Warner Music Group, in the 1960s Mo ushered Warner/Reprise Records into a golden era of revolutionary, culture-shifting artistry. Over his next three decades at the label, he remained a tireless champion of creative freedom, both for the talent he nurtured and the people who worked for him,” they added.

“Mo lived an extraordinary life doing what he loved, and he will be deeply missed throughout the industry he helped create, and by the countless artists and colleagues whom he inspired to be their best selves.”

Born in New York in 1927, Morris Meyer Ostrofsky began his career in the mid-1950s at Verve Records as a controller, before being hired by Frank Sinatra to manage Reprise Records in 1960.

Ostin moved into a larger executive position after Reprise was bought out by Warner Bros. three years later, signing The Kinks and Jimi Hendrix to the label in the 1960s. Over the following decades, Warner-Reprise became a who’s who of talented artists. Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty, Paul Simon, Van Halen, Prince, The Who, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more were all part of its roster at one time or another.

In 1970, Ostin became president of Warner-Reprise. He took the role of chairman/CEO two years later, continuing the position until his departure from the company in 1994. A year later, he joined DreamWorks Records, where he remained for almost a decade, before returning to Warner Bros. Records as a consultant in 2006.

Ostin’s contribution to the music industry was recognised in 2003, when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Young, Simon and Lorne Michaels. Three years later, the Recording Academy honoured him with an Icon Award.

Mo Ostin being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, where he was honoured by Neil Young, Lorne Michaels and Paul Simon
Mo Ostin being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, where he was honoured by Neil Young, Lorne Michaels and Paul Simon. Credit: Kevin Kane/WireImage

Following news of his death, figures from throughout the industry have paid tribute to Ostin. Warner Music Group’s CEO of recorded music, Max Lousada, called Ostin “as a pioneer who wrote the rulebook for others to follow” in a statement.

“Warner Music Group and Warner Records wouldn’t exist without his passion, vision, and intelligence. He not only helped build one of the world’s greatest music companies, but he inspired a culture driven by bravery and ingenuity. Mo saw artists for who they really were and gave them the space and support to fully realize their originality.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea remembered Ostin as “the greatest person I ever met in the music business”, adding that the executive made him feel “valued, understood and welcome when I was a confused kid with a lot of growing up to do”. Scott Booker, manager for the Flaming Lips (who signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1990) called Ostin “a visionary” who “shaped so much of what I love in this world”.

Read more tributes, including from Q-Tip and the estate of Tom Petty, below: