Commentary
7:47 am
Tue April 2, 2013

Musical Space: How John Hammond Shaped American Pop Music

You might not have heard of John Hammond, but in terms of cultural significance he was arguably the world’s most influential record producer.

(L to R) Lonnie Johnson, Chris Albertson, John H. Hammond, Elmer Snowden
(L to R) Lonnie Johnson, Chris Albertson, John H. Hammond, Elmer Snowden
Credit Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of his career in the 1930s, largely because of his deep convictions about racial equality and civil rights, Hammond helped shape the the jazz scene.

He was one of the first to bring integration to the record industry, introducing white audiences to African-American musicians like Fletcher Henderson and Benny Carter. He was also the one to convince Benny Goodman to hire black musicians like Charlie Christian, Lionel Hampton and Billie Holiday.

Hammond continued to influence the music industry after World War II, discovering and producing R&B musicians like Aretha Franklin and folk acts like Pete Seeger and Leonard Cohen.

In 1961, Hammond discovered Bob Dylan, producing his early albums for Columbia Records. At that same time, he was responsible for the reissue of recordings by the Delta bluesman Robert Johnson. making it possible for English rockers like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page to fuse the blues with rock 'n' roll. John Hammond did even more for the rock world by discovering Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The musicians Hammond discovered during the five decades of his career somehow transcended commercialism to create music of deep beauty and lasting cultural impact. Thanks, John Hammond, for the integrity you gave to American pop.

Music: "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" by Bob Dylan from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.