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Donald Clark Kirshner (April 17, 1934 – January 17, 2011),[1] known as The Man With the Golden Ear,[citation needed] was an American music publisher, rock music producer, talent manager, and songwriter. He was best known for managing songwriting talent as well as successful pop groups, such as the Monkees, Kansas, and the Archies.[2]

Don Kirshner
Don Kirshner 1974 (cropped).JPG
Kirshner in 1974
Donald Clark Kirshner

(1934-04-17)April 17, 1934
DiedJanuary 17, 2011(2011-01-17) (aged 76)
Resting placeTemple Beth El Mausoleum, Boca Raton, Florida, U.S
Alma materUpsala College
Years active1950s–2011
Known forDon Kirshner's Rock Concert
Sheila Grod Kirshner (m. 1959)
Parent(s)Gilbert Kirshner
Belle Jaffe

Early lifeEdit

Don Kirshner was born to a Jewish family[3] in the Bronx, New York, United States,[4] the son of Gilbert Kirshner, a tailor, and Belle Jaffe. He graduated from George Washington High School in Manhattan,[5] and went on to study at Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey.[6] After graduation he went to work for Vanderbilt Music, a small music publishing company owned by former Tin Pan Alley lyricist Al Lewis. Kirshner brought Lewis together with Sylvester Bradford, a blind African-American songwriter. Lewis and Bradford wrote "Tears on My Pillow", which was a big hit for Little Anthony and the Imperials in 1958.[7]

Aldon MusicEdit

Kirshner achieved his first major success in the late 1950s and early 1960s as co-owner of the influential New York-based publishing company Aldon Music with partner Al Nevins, which had under contract at various times several of the most important songwriters of the so-called "Brill Building" school, including Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Phil Spector, Howard Greenfield, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Jack Keller.[4]

As a producer-promoter, Kirshner was instrumental in launching the careers of singers and songwriters, including Bobby Darin, with whom he collaborated on a number of advertising jingles and pop "ditties" - their first was called Bubblegum Pop.[8] He was also responsible for finding Tony Orlando, Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Sarah Dash of Labelle, as well as discovering the occasional rock act, such as Kansas.[2][9]

Don Kirshner's record labelsEdit

Kirshner had three record labels. The first was Chairman Records, a subsidiary of London Records. Although he was responsible for scores of hits in the 1960s, he was only to have one on the Chairman label – 1963's "Martian Hop" by The Ran-Dells – which reached number 16 nationally. Kirshner later had two other record labels: Calendar Records, which had early hits by the Archies, and later morphed into the Kirshner label, which had later hits by the Archies and Kansas. In the 1990s, Calendar Records was acquired by Tom Ficara and Combined Artists. Calendar/Kirshner recordings were first distributed by RCA Records, then CBS Records. Kirshner was also involved in Dimension Records.[4]

The MonkeesEdit

In the early 1960s, Kirshner was a successful music publisher as head of his own company, Aldon Music, which later was sold to Screen Gems-Columbia Music.[4] With Al Nevins, Kirshner brought performers such as Bobby Darin together with songwriters and musicians. He later became president of COLGEMS, a subsidiary of the COLPIX label, in 1966.

Kirshner was hired by the producers of the Monkees to provide hit-worthy songs to accompany the television program, within a demanding schedule. Kirshner used songwriting talent from his Brill Building stable of writers and musicians to create catchy, engaging tracks which the band could pretend to perform on the show. This was required in order to keep up with the demanding schedule.

The formula worked phenomenally well – the singles "Last Train to Clarksville", written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and "I'm a Believer" written by Neil Diamond and the first two Monkees albums were produced and released in time to catch the initial wave of the television program's popularity. The lead guitar on "Last Train To Clarksville", "Valleri" and the Monkees theme was written and played by Louie Shelton. After a year, the Monkees wanted a chance to play their own instruments on the records. They also wanted more control over which songs would be released as singles. The matter reached a breaking point over a disagreement regarding the Neil Diamond-penned "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" in early 1967. The song's release by Kirshner as a single without Columbia Pictures' consent,[10] led to his dismissal. The planned B-side was replaced with "The Girl I Knew Somewhere", a song written by Nesmith and performed by the Monkees. They also performed on the next year's recordings, which were featured in the show's second season.

Kirshner's later venture was the Archies, an animated series where there were only the studio musicians to be managed.[6]

Kirshner served as a music consultant or music supervisor for almost two dozen TV series between 1966 and 1977, such as Bewitched.[11]


From 1970 to 1979, Kirshner served as producer or executive producer for a number of made for TV movies, TV specials, and TV series.[11] One of those series was the musical game show Musical Chairs, notable for being the first game show hosted by an African-American, Adam Wade.[12]

Don Kirshner's Rock ConcertEdit

In the fall of 1972, Kirshner was asked by ABC Television to serve as executive producer and "creative consultant" for their new In Concert series, which aired every other week in the 11:30 p.m. slot normally showing The Dick Cavett Show. The following September, Kirshner left In Concert to produce and host his own syndicated weekly rock-concert program called Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.[4] With its long-form live performances, as compared to rehearsed, often lip-synced performances that were the staple of earlier television shows like Shindig!, it was a new direction for pop music presentation.[4] The last show aired in 1981, the year that MTV was launched.

The program presented many of the most successful rock bands of the era, but what was consistent week-to-week was Kirshner's deliberately[citation needed] "flat" delivery as the program host. In its final season, Rock Concert was mostly hosted by Kirshner's son and daughter, whose delivery was the same as their father's. Kirshner's "wooden" presentation style was later lampooned on Saturday Night Live by Paul Shaffer, most notably in Shaffer's introduction of the Blues Brothers during the duo's television debut. Shaffer and Kirshner worked together on the short-lived situation comedy, A Year at the Top, which Kirshner co-produced with Norman Lear, and in which Shaffer starred.[13]

In the Blue Öyster Cult song "The Marshall Plan", from the album Cultösaurus Erectus, Don Kirshner's voice is sampled to introduce the fictitious Johnny: "This is Don Kirshner. And tonight on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, a new phenomenon in the music world – with six million albums to his credit in just two short years, my good friend, here's Johnny!"

Later careerEdit

Kirshner received the 2007 Songwriters Hall of Fame Abe Olman Publishing Award.[14] He was a creative consultant for Rockrena, a company founded by Jack Wishna, and launched in 2011 to promote new music talent online.[15] He died of heart failure in a Boca Raton, Florida hospital on January 17, 2011, at age 76, survived by his wife of 50 years, Sheila; his son, Ricky; daughter, Daryn Lewis; and five grandchildren.[16][17][18]

On April 14, 2012, Don Kirshner was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[19]

Further readingEdit

  • Podolsky, Rich (2012) Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear: How He Changed the Face of Rock and Roll. Hal Leonard Publishing. ISBN 1-4584-1670-4


  1. ^ "Don Kirshner dies at 76; music mogul". Los Angeles Times. January 19, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Sisario, Ben (January 18, 2011). "Don Kirshner, Shaper of Hit Records, Dies at 76".
  3. ^ "Don Kirshner". Cleveland Jewish News.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 716/7. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  5. ^ "Don Kirshner".
  6. ^ a b Schudel, Matt (January 18, 2012). "Don Kirshner, hit-making rock impresario of the 1960s, dies at 76". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  7. ^ Goodman, Fred (2015). Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-547-89686-1.
  8. ^ "Don Kirshner". The Daily Telegraph. London. April 18, 2011.
  9. ^ "From chart-topping teen to music executive, Tony Orlando has done it all".
  10. ^ Harold Bronson, ed. (October 1996). Hey, hey, we're the Monkees. Santa Monica, Calif.: General Pub. Group. p. 67. ISBN 1575440121.
  11. ^ a b "Don Kirshner". IMDb.
  12. ^ Short-Lived Television Series, 1948–1978: Thirty Years of More Than 1,000 Flops By Wesley Hyatt, page 235-36
  13. ^ A Year at the Top on IMDb
  14. ^ "Kirshner award info/biography at Songwriters Hall of Fame website". Archived from the original on December 17, 2010. Retrieved January 19, 2011.
  15. ^ ""Rock promoter Don Kirshner, dubbed the 'Man with the Golden Ear,' dies at 76 in Florida"".
  16. ^, "Rock producer and Monkees hit-maker Don Kirshner dead at 76", 18 January 2011 (accessed 29 December 2011)
  17. ^ Sam Thielman (January 18, 2011). "Don Kirshner, music publisher and producer, dies". Variety. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
  18. ^ Matt Schudel (January 18, 2011). "Don Kirshner, hit-making rock impresario of the 1960s, dies at 76". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
  19. ^ "Don Kirshner". Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

External linksEdit