Veteran label executive, songwriter and producer Morty Craftwho worked with a young Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, as well as Herbie Hancock, Bob Crewe, Connie Francis, Conway Twitty and dozens of other artists, died on January 27 at the age of 101.
Born in Brockton, Mass., in 1920, Craft began his musical career as an arranger and saxophonist/clarinetist during the Big Band era. He moved to New York after World War II and found success in a number of genres including pop, doo-wop, rock, rockabilly and R&B.
In 1957, he founded Lance Records, whose biggest hit was the Shepherd Sisters’ doo-wop hit “Alone (Why Must I Be)”, which he co-wrote and produced. The song was later covered by Petula Clark.
The same year, Craft joined MGM Records as head of recording and director of single record sales. There, some of the hits Craft helped propel include Francis’ classic “Who’s Sorry Now,” Shep Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater,” Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All in the Game,” and “It’s Only Make Believe” by Twitter.
In 1959 Craft launched the short-lived Warwick Records with one of its earliest releases being the instrumental album Memories of Jolie by Morty Craft & His Singing Strings. The label also hosted what is believed to be Hancock’s first recorded appearance on an album with Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams.
Before the label closed in 1962, he also released music by Johnny and the Hurricanes, The String-A-Longs and The Tokens, which included a young Neil Sedaka in their lineup.
According to the book by Peter Ames Carlin, Homeward: The Life of Paul Simon, Craft signed a young Simon (as Jerry Landis) and Garfunkel (as Artie Garr) to Melba Records and told the pair to keep working on songs. Nine months later, Craft still hadn’t heard a hit and dissolved the deal.
Other highlights of Craft’s decades-long career include producing The Harptones’ “A Sunday Kind of Love” and The Willows’ “Church Bells May Ring.”
Survivors include his son Alan Craft and his daughters Chris Weinberg, Carrie Craft and Tiffany Craft.