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Record producer Phil Ramone, winner of 14 Grammys, dies at 79

Phil Ramone, a prolific record producer and engineer who worked with some of the biggest stars of the last 50 years has died.  He was 79.
Image: Phil Ramone, Billy Joel
Music producer and engineer Phil Ramone is seen with Billy Joel at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Ceremony in New York in 2010.Larry Busacca / Getty Images, file
/ Source: The New York Times

Phil Ramone, a prolific record producer and engineer who worked with some of the biggest stars of the last 50 years, including Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Billy Joel and Barbra Streisand, died on Saturday in Manhattan. He was 79. Though it was widely reported that he was 72, public records and his family confirm that he was born Jan. 5, 1934.

His death was confirmed by his son Matthew. He did not immediately release a cause, but Mr. Ramone was reported to have been admitted to a Manhattan hospital in late February for treatment of an aortic aneurysm.

In his 2007 memoir, “Making Records, the Scenes Behind the Music,” written with Charles L. Granata, Mr. Ramone detailed decades of recording sessions with superstar artists and defined the role of record producer as being roughly equivalent to that of a movie director, creating and managing an environment in which to coax the best work out of his performers.

“But, unlike a director (who is visible, and often a celebrity in his own right), the record producer toils in anonymity,” he wrote. “We ply our craft deep into the night, behind locked doors. And with few exceptions, the fruit of our labor is seldom launched with the glitzy fanfare of a Hollywood premiere.”

Mr. Ramone’s career was one of those exceptions. Within the music industry he had a reputation as an expert craftsman and trusted artists’ confidant, and he became one of the handful of producers with wide public name recognition. He won a total of 14 Grammy Awards, including producer of the year, nonclassical, in 1981, and three for album of the year: Mr. Simon’s “Still Crazy After All these Years” in 1976, Mr. Joel’s “52nd Street” in 1980, and Mr. Charles’s duets album, “Genius Loves Company” in 2005.“I always thought of Phil Ramone as the most talented guy in my band,” Mr. Joel said in a statement on Saturday. “He was the guy that no one ever ever saw onstage. He was with me as long as any of the musicians I ever played with — longer than most. So much of my music was shaped by him and brought to fruition by him.”

Mr. Ramone was born in South Africa and grew up in Brooklyn. His father died when Mr. Ramone was young, and his mother worked in a department store. A classical violin prodigy, he studied at Juilliard but soon drifted toward jazz and pop. He apprenticed at a recording studio, and in 1958 co-founded A & R Recording, a studio on West 48th Street in Manhattan.

Mr. Ramone quickly built a reputation as a recording engineer for a range of material, including pop fare like Lesley Gore as well as jazz by John Coltrane and Stan Getz and João Gilberto’s landmark 1964 album “Getz/Gilberto.” He was also the engineer behind Marilyn Monroe’s breathy version of “Happy Birthday” sung to President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

Through the 1960s he worked as an engineer with Quincy Jones, Neil Diamond, Aretha Franklin and B. J. Thomas (“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”) and others, and also began working as a producer.

Mr. Ramone had a reputation for a conservative sound, but he was also a proponent of new technology.

In addition to his son Matthew, Mr. Ramone’s survivors include his sons, William and Simon, and his wife, Karen.

This article, "," first appeared in The New York Times.