Julian Aberbach

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A highly successful Austrian music entrepreneur, who founded the country publishing company Hill & Range Songs.
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b. 1909, Vienna, Austria, d. 17 May 2004, New York City, New York, USA. Interested in music from early childhood, Aberbach took up residence in Paris, France where he formed a music publishing company. In 1939, with war looming, he left Europe for the USA eventually being joined there by his brother, Joachim Jean Aberbach, and his parents. During World War II, he served in the US Army as a multi-lingual liaison officer with Free French soldiers. His training and his main posting were in southern states and it was during this period that he began to take an interest in country music. Following his army service, he moved to Los Angeles where he again worked in music publishing. His first success was with the publication of Spade Cooley’s ‘Shame On You’, which became a hit single when it was released by Columbia Records. Aberbach then took on ‘Detour’, another successful Cooley recording which was also recorded by Weslie Tuttle and most successfully by Patti Page. Another hit for Aberbach’s burgeoning publishing company, Hill & Range Songs, was ‘Stars And Stripes On Iwo Jima’, recorded by Bob Wills And The Texas Troubadours. Meanwhile, his brother had also been active in music publishing and it was not long before they teamed up; later, a cousin, Freddy Bienstock, also joined the company. The association with Bienstock would continue for many years through Carlin Music.

During the next few years, operating out of offices in Los Angeles and New York, Hill & Range became strongly associated with the Nashville country music scene. The company published material by numerous leading stars of the Grand Ole Opry, including Eddie Arnold, Johnny Cash, Red Foley, Lefty Frizzell, Bill Monroe, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams. Unusually for the times, individual artists who signed with Hill & Range were given guarantees of a share of the profits and much more control in building musical policy for their recording careers. In 1955, on the advice of Snow, Aberbach attended a concert in Shreveport, Louisiana, to see and hear a new young singer. This was Elvis Presley and soon thereafter, Aberbach set up a contract with the singer. They established a company, Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc., which shared publishing profits 50:50 and subsequently retained ownership of many Presley interests and continued to administer a large catalogue of the songs.

From the early 70s onwards, Aberbach’s business was worldwide with offices in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburg and Rome. Although he moved his personal base to Paris, he travelled continuously between Europe and the USA and it was while on a trip to New York that he suffered a serious heart attack. This prompted his brother to sell the company. In interviews in later years, Aberbach recalled that despite his medical condition he called his brother and urged him to retain a 25% stake in the 3, 000-plus songs the company was then handling, 50% of the Presley music, and 100% of Williams. The resulting contract ensured the Aberbachs’ financial security for the rest of their long lives. The brothers were also owners of the Aberbach Fine Art Gallery in New York. Jean Aberbach died in 1992.

In 2000 Aberbach was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, winning the Abe Olman Publisher Award. In June 2003, he was awarded the French Legion of Honour. The following year, at a party celebrating his 95th birthday and his 50th wedding anniversary, Aberbach was given a plaque by EPE that read: ‘To commemorate the sales of more than one billion Elvis Presley recordings from the music publishing catalogues of Julian and Jean Aberbach and the Aberbach Family since 1956’.