Morris Levy and Suge Knight have similiar backgrounds.  Levy was an colorful character who invoked fear and intimidation among his artists.  Levy threatened artists by holding them over balconies and he was connected to the mob; he had numerous run-ins with law enforcement.  Like Suge Knight, he owned his master recordings.

Morris Levy was born in the East Bronx, New York.  He would go into the nightclub and restaurant business.   He was the owner of the legendary Birdland nightclub. 

The best talent performed at Birdland: Miles, Bird, Monk, Dizzy and Coltrane.  Over 1.4 million people flocked to Birdland in its first two years of operation.

Levy would launch Roulette Records with George Goldner and Joe Kolsky in 1957.   He often took credit for songs written by his artists.  Frankie Lymon wrote "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," Levy took credit and collected the royalties.

Lymon would die broke.  Over the years, Levy would collect songwriter and publishing royalties on an additional 100 songs that he did not write.  He stopped at nothing to gain complete control of his artists. 

Levy was also in business with radio personality Alan Freed.  They successfully promoted and produced the Rock & Roll concerts of the 1950's and 1960's.

Levy got into publishing by accident.  An ASCAP rep came to Birdland and informed Levy, each time an artist covered a song, a royalty had to be paid to the person who owned the copyright.

Levy sprung into action and purchased the Big Seven catalogue.  This catalogue has over 30,000 titles, including: "TheYellow Rose Of Texas" and Lulaby Of Birdland." 

Levy diversified his holdings and purchased a record store chain, he also purchased championship race horses, he sold shares to rock stars and their managers.

Before his death, he was offered $30 million for his record store chain, he declined the offer.

Levy had several altercations with federal authorities due to his association with the Genovese Crime Family.   He would avoid prosecution until 1988, he was convicted of Federal Racketeering and Extortion.

Levy was sentenced to ten years, he remained free on bond.

In 1989, Levy sold Roulette Records to Rhino-EMI partnership.  In 1990, Morris Levy would die of Cancer.   At the time of his death, Levy's publishing catalogue was valued at $75 million dollars.

Source: "Hit Men" by Frederick Dannen

 

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