LaBaron Taylor

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Pioneering black music executive LeBaron Taylor was a nearly four decade veteran with Sony Music; joining the company when it was CBS Records. He was instrumental in giving the company a strong presence…
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Pioneering black music executive LeBaron Taylor was a nearly four decade veteran with Sony Music; joining the company when it was CBS Records. He was instrumental in giving the company a strong presence in the manufacturing and distribution of black music. He was instrumental in the success of Gamble and Huff's CBS-distributed Philadelphia International Records whose roster included such million-selling hitmakers as the Intruders, the O' Jays, the Three Degrees, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and Teddy Pendergrass; as well as Jean Carn, Instant Funk, and People's Choice. Under his tenure, CBS scored the first, certified platinum single with Johnnie Taylor's "Disco Lady" which sold over two million copies. Other gold and platinum acts were the Isley Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, and the Jacksons.

He began his entertainment career working at Detroit radio stations, where in the '60s he was a top-rated DJ at WLHB and later a program director/DJ at WCHB. During this time, Twenty Grand nightclub owner/Golden World Records owner Ed Wingate tapped Taylor and his Ric-Tic label for hits that featured Motown's studio band the Funk Brothers: Edwin Starr's "Agent Double-O-Soul" (number eight R&B, number 21 pop, summer 1965), "Stop Her on Sight (S.O.S.)" (number nine R&B, number 48 pop, early 1966), and the Parliaments' "(I Wanna) Testify" (number three R&B, number 20 pop, 1967). The group evolved into George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic and did a 1977 remake. Johnnie Taylor's cover "Testify (I Wonna)" went to number four R&B and number 36 pop in spring 1969. Trekking to Philadelphia, he became vice president/station manager of WDAS. Later he was as a director of A&R (artists and repertoire) for Atlantic Records.

Taylor joined CBS Records in 1974 as vice president of special markets. He was later promoted to v.p. of black music marketing, then v.p./general manager of divisional public affairs for CBS. Taylor helped institute what became known as "crossover". His strategy was to have R&B radio play the label's releases until the single had sold over 500,000, then using this sales clout aim the release to pop radio and "crossover" the release to white audiences. Another phase of the strategy was to not issue an album until two months after the release of the single, so that radio station programmers wouldn't start playing another track off of the album; thus causing conflict between that and the single, and fouling up CBS' marketing plan. The plan proved quite successful with CBS having a myriad of millionsellers from the aforementioned Johnny Taylor, the acts on Gamble and Huff's label and the Manhattans' single "Kiss and Say Goodbye" selling over a million copies. Former Brunswick signee Tyrone Davis also enjoyed a hit streak with "Give It Up, Turn It Loose," "This I Swear," "All You Got," "Get on Up (Disco)," "In the Mood" (gold), and "Be With Me." At one point, over 25 percent of CBS' sales were generated from its black music division which included Paris Eley and Vernon Slaughter. Internal politics, the 1979 music biz recession/sales slump led to the label's layoffs, which practically destroyed Taylor's division. Ironically, this all happened just as CBS was enjoying the platinum success of Michael Jackson's Off the Wall LP. Taylor focused his energies on becoming a lobbyist/public-affairs executive coordinating the annual showcase dinner of The Congressional Black Caucus.

More than just a "suit," Taylor was a community advocate, tying together music business economics with the economic and political empowerment of people of color, co-headed the Black Music Association (BMA) with fellow music biz pioneer Ewart Abner and was a member of The Rhythm and Blues Foundation. In 1992, the music biz veteran became senior vice president of corporate affairs for Sony Music worldwide. As the 21st century began, he was both the senior vice president of corporate affairs for SonyMusic Entertainment and v.p. of corporate affairs for Sony Software Corporation. On July 19, 2000, LeBaron Taylor died of a heart attack at the age of 65; three days later his funeral was held at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia.