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Posted at 12:47 PM ET, 01/19/2011

Don Kirshner, rock-and-roll impresario

By Matt Schudel
Matt Schudel

Don Kirshner, a tireless rock-and-roll publisher, promoter and all-around impresario, died Jan. 17 in Florida at age 76. Kirshner first came to prominence in the 1950s as a songwriting partner and, later, manager of the multi-talented Bobby Darin, a buddy from the Bronx.

Kirshner and a business partner owned a music publishing company in New York that was part of the Brill Building scene of the early 1960s, when a new generation of songwriters holed up in an office building on Broadway, pounding out hits for the new teen audience. (Kirshner's business was not actually in the Brill Building -- 1619 Broadway -- but was across the street and two blocks up Broadway at No. 1650. Still, if it wasn't the actual Brill Building, the vibe was the same.)

With songwriters Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann and others under contract to Kirshner, his company churned out hundreds of hits from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, including "Where the Boys Are," "Up on the Roof," "On Broadway," "The Loco-Motion" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'."

Kirshner later became the musical mastermind behind the Monkees, a short-lived musical and TV phenomenon of the 1960s that quickly fizzled when the Monkees fired Kirshner and tried to make a go of it on their own, without the talents of Kirshner's songwriters and studio musicians.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Kirshner was the host of a then-revolutionary TV program called "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert," which introduced dozens, if not hundreds of musical and comedy acts to the mainstream television audience. Countless performers, from Billy Joel to the Allman Brothers, Devo, Prince, Natalie Cole and Sly & the Family Stone, got early exposure on Kirshner's show.

Kirshner was something of a stiff host, sort of like a hipster uncle at a patio party, with his big-collared, double-knit outfits and his awkward Bronx delivery.

In one of the show's more memorable segments from 1977, ladies and gentlemen, Don Kirshner presents the seminal American punk band, the Ramones!

By Matt Schudel  | January 19, 2011; 12:47 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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