|Pierre Cossette as he arrived in February at a Los Angeles MusiCares Person of the Year tribute honoring Neil Diamond. (Chris Pizzello/Associated Press)|
Pierre Cossette, 85, founder of modern Grammy Awards
TORONTO - Pierre Cossette, who founded the modern Grammy Awards and produced the globally televised music awards ceremony for 35 years, died Friday of congestive heart failure at a Montreal hospital. He was 85.
Mr. Cossette, a native of Valleyfield, Quebec, was an accomplished television and theater producer who managed some of American pop music’s most influential early bands. But he is best known for guiding the Grammy Awards from its early days as a stuffy, unsuccessful production to the industry institution it has become.
In its early years, the Grammy show was an hourlong compilation of recorded performances, and it was not a commercial success. When the production rights became available in 1971, Mr. Cossette already had a successful career in the music business as a producer and manager.
He had the ambitious idea to turn the show into a grand musical showcase full of live performances, but he had difficulty selling networks on his vision. Executives were particularly skeptical that there was an audience for a performance-based TV show. But Mr. Cossette - nicknamed “Showbiz’’ - persevered.
The Grammy Museum, which opened in December 2008, is called the Pierre Cossette Center and contains a corner exhibit dedicated to him.
In an interview before the 2009 Grammy Awards, Mr. Cossette said the acknowledgment served as validation of his life’s work.
“I was thrilled,’’ he said. “I could only think back to when we first started it, in ballrooms and dance halls and hotel rooms, and [then it] finally growing up to this monster thing. And all the trials, tribulations of getting there. Booking the places, then having to cancel because either the Academy or the record industry wouldn’t support it. My part of it, proving them wrong, was exciting for me.’’
Mr. Cossette produced the Grammy Awards until 2005, when his son took over the job.
Before working on the Grammys, Mr. Cossette was manager for Ann-Margret, Vic Damone, Dick Shawn, and Rowan & Martin. He is credited with pioneering the Vegas lounge act format. Soon, he struck out on his own by founding Dunhill Records, where the roster included the Mamas and the Papas, Steppenwolf, and Three Dog Night.
He later sold the label and became a TV producer. He got his start with Johnny Mann’s “Stand Up and Cheer,’’ and expanded his offerings to include “The Glen Campbell Show’’ and “The Andy Williams Show.’’