Funeral services were pending Monday for Mo Ostin, who led Warner Bros. Records for more than two decades, using his artists-first mindset to attract some of the industry’s biggest acts and build one of music’s most successful labels.
Variety and the Los Angeles Times reported that Ostin died of natural causes at age 95. According to the Times, Ostin — a 1951 UCLA graduate and major benefactor of the university’s music programs — died Sunday.
Ostin was working with Verve Records in the 1950s when Frank Sinatra attempted to purchase the label. Sinatra lost out to MGM Records, but he decided to start his own label — Reprise — and hired Ostin to lead the company.
Reprise was purchased in the 1960s by Warner Bros., and Ostin oversaw a string of successful artist signing, including the Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Prince, Madonna and Rod Stewart.
Ostin became president of Warner-Reprise in 1970, and took over as chairman and CEO a short time later.
More big-name acts joined the label, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Tom Petty, Van Halen and R.E.M.
Ostin left the company in 1994, telling the Times in an interview that year that he built the company by believing in artists and allowing them freedom and creative control over their music. But he told the paper he balked when the company asked him to slash payroll, a move he saw as akin to penny-pinching, and leading to his departure.
He left the business only briefly, agreeing in 1995 to join DreamWorks SKG, enjoying more success with signings including Nelly Furtado, Toby Keith and Jimmy Eat World. That label was sold in 2003 to Universal Music Group, and Ostin retired for good in 2004.
He was inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
In 2011, Ostin donated $10 million to UCLA to build a state-of-the-art recording studio, rehearsal space, an Internet-based production center and other amenities for aspiring musicians — known as the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center, honoring his wife, who died in 2005.
He gave the university another $10 million to fund the Mo Ostin Basketball Center.
Ostin is survived by his son Michael.