Don Kirshner, the businessman and songwriter who helped create the Monkees and launch the careers of several iconic performers, died Monday in Florida. According to a press release, the 76-year-old passed away from heart failure.
Known as "The Man With the Golden Ear," Kirshner was born in 1934 in New York City. He entered the music business in the late '50s as a manager for singer Connie Francis, but soon transitioned into providing what he saw as the industry's most pressing need: connecting performers with songwriters.
In the early '60s Kirshner founded Aldon Music, a publishing company that worked with a number of then-unknown performers, including Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond and Carole King, connecting them with resources including studio musicians, producers and songwriters. Kirshner and his staff also cranked out a series of hit singles for groups ranging from the Drifters to the Ronettes. Aldon Music was the single most dominant force in pop music for several years, eventually being bought out by Columbia.
In 1966, in the wake of the Beatles' emergence, Kirshner switched directions. Combining the Beatles' template with his own knowledge of hit-making, Kirshner created a new model for music marketing that would serve as a reference point for countless musicians and labels in the ensuing decades, ranging from boy bands to image-conscious rock groups.
The project? The Monkees.
Filmmakers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who created the Beatles-inspired group specifically for a television series, asked Kirshner to write the music. He was soon hired on as a full producer and helped pen several hits including 'I'm a Believer.' He also consulted in the Monkees' branding and distribution, and when he stepped away from the group the following year, their sales and popularity dropped significantly.
In the '70s, Kirshner produced the highly successful 'Don Kirshner's Rock Concert' on ABC, a live-performance revue that served as an answer to other shows' reliance on lip-syncing and other staged performances.
Kirshner is survived by his wife, Sheila, to whom he was married for 50 years, as well as two children and four grandchildren.