Influential music executive Mo Ostin has died at 95 Ostin signed deals with major pop and rock talent over the decades, including Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac and R.E.M. He said the industry didn't have to prioritize sales over artistic freedom.

Music industry titan Mo Ostin who worked with Sinatra, Hendrix and Prince dies at 95

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Longtime Warner Brothers record executive Mo Ostin died Sunday evening at the age of 95. He worked with Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks and many more musical acts. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: When Mo Ostin heard the Kinks' British hit "You Really Got Me" in 1964, he made a deal to release it in the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU REALLY GOT ME")

THE KINKS: (Singing) Girl, you really got me going. You got me so I don't know what I'm doing.

BLAIR: In the 1970s, when a then-unknown artist named Prince insisted on producing his own albums, Ostin agreed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER")

PRINCE: (Singing) I ain't got no money. I ain't like those other guys you hang around.

BLAIR: And when there were doubts about Paul Simon making an album in South Africa, Ostin supported him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRACELAND")

PAUL SIMON: (Singing) I'm going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, I'm going to Graceland.

BLAIR: Ostin was a businessman, and the artists he signed sold millions of records. But he also got behind less commercial musicians like Van Dyke Parks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL GOLDEN")

VAN DYKE PARKS: (Singing) Off the record, he is hungry, though he works hard in his Alabama country fair.

BLAIR: Born in New York to Russian Jewish immigrants, Ostin's first job in the music industry was with the jazz label Verve. His work there impressed Frank Sinatra, who hired Ostin to help run his own label. Ostin said it was Sinatra who inspired his artist-first approach. Eventually, Reprise was bought by Warner Records, and Ostin became Warner's president.

PETER AMES CARLIN: Mo was probably the most music-conscious, music-centric chief executive of a record company in the rock and roll era.

BLAIR: Peter Ames Carlin is the author of "Sonic Boom: The Impossible Rise Of Warner Brothers Records." He says when Ostin took over, he told his employees to change their approach.

AMES CARLIN: He sat him down, and he said, look, we need to stop trying to make hit records. Let's just make good records and turn those into hits.

BLAIR: And he did. Under Mo Ostin, Warner became one of the most successful record companies in the world.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFTER THE GOLD RUSH")

THE KING'S SINGERS: (Singing) I was lying in a burned-out basement with a full moon in my eyes.

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