Michael Berniker

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The career of longtime Columbia Records staff producer Michael Berniker spans from Latin jazz to spoken word to classical music, but he remains best remembered for helming the first three LPs by Broadway…
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The career of longtime Columbia Records staff producer Michael Berniker spans from Latin jazz to spoken word to classical music, but he remains best remembered for helming the first three LPs by Broadway phenom Barbra Streisand. Born in Brooklyn, NY, on June 30, 1935, Berniker studied music and philosophy while attending Columbia University. During a two-year U.S. Army stint in El Paso, TX, he hosted a local radio program and even organized a jazz festival. Upon leaving the service in 1960 Berniker enrolled in CBS Records' in-house A&R training program -- in addition to producing jazz sessions for Charlie Rouse, Dave Bailey, and Johnny Coles, he was given the reins to a reissue campaign spotlighting classic original cast recordings of Broadway landmarks like Annie Get Your Gun and Finian's Rainbow, and his affinity for the stage and its often temperamental talents served him in good stead during the years to follow. When Streisand signed to Columbia in 1962 in the wake of her star-making turn in Broadway's I Can Get It for You Wholesale, Berniker was installed to helm the sessions, collaborating with arranger Peter Matz to assemble an impeccable selection of theater and cabaret standards that captured the full scope of Streisand's considerable talents -- the resulting The Barbra Streisand Album won a pair of Grammy Awards in 1963. Berniker reunited with Streisand for The Second Barbra Streisand Album and The Third Album, and for a time in 1964 all three LPs appeared simultaneously on Billboard's Top Ten despite the outbreak of Beatlemania.

Berniker claimed nine Grammys in total over the course of his career. In 1966, he teamed with Eydie Gorme on her Grammy-winning rendition of Mame's "If He Walked into My Life," and additionally teamed with crooners Johnny Mathis and Perry Como. Berniker also produced original cast albums drawn from Broadway hits including Barnum, City of Angels, and a revived Sweet Charity, and even served as supervising producer on 1966's I Am the Greatest, a spoken word effort featuring prizefighting legend Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali). Berniker left Columbia in 1968, serving as an executive at a series of rival labels, most notably RCA, where he signed pop acts including Hall & Oates and Juice Newton. Upon returning to the Columbia fold in 1977, Berniker launched the Columbia Jazz Masterpieces series, coordinating a comprehensive reissue campaign spotlighting seminal sessions by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington. In 1979 he also expanded into contemporary Latin jazz, winning another Grammy for his efforts on Cuban fusion outfit Irakere's self-titled debut. While back-catalog efforts captured much of Berniker's attention in the years to follow, especially as CD reissues emerged as a significant source of Columbia's revenue, he capped off his Broadway production career with a Grammy for his work on 1991's The Will Rogers Follies original cast album. Berniker died July 25, 2008, in Great Barrington, MA, following a long battle with kidney disease -- he was 73.