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Mary Martin, Manager and A&R Executive Who Guided Van Morrison and Vince Gill, Dies at 85

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Veteran music manager and record label executive Mary Martin — a champion, career guider and musical connector for artists including Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill — died on Thursday (July 4) at age 85, according to a statement from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Born on June 15, 1939, Martin, a Toronto native, studied briefly at the University of British Columbia before moving to New York in the 1960s and working as an executive assistant to Albert Grossman, a manager for Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot and Peter, Paul and Mary.


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“Working for Albert Grossman in those days, it didn’t matter how menial the task was,” Martin said during a 2009 interview at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where she was honored as part of the Louise Scruggs Memorial Forum. “It was that we were surrounded and enveloped by all these great artists.”

After returning to Toronto, Martin got involved with the folk music scene and became aware of the band The Hawks, which included members Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko. The group would later become known as The Band, and Martin is credited with connecting the group with Dylan in the mid-1960s.

Martin went on to become an artist manager for artists including Cohen, who would later release songs including “Suzanne” and “Sisters of Mercy.” She began managing Morrison just as he released such star-making albums as Astral Weeks, Moondance and Tupelo Honey.

Throughout much of the 1970s, Martin worked as an influential A&R executive for Warner Bros. Records, signing and developing the careers of artists including Emmylou Harris and Leon Redbone.

“If you take her out of the equation, my life would be very, very different,” Harris said in the trailer for the documentary Mary Martin: Music Maven.

After leaving Warner Bros., Martin began managing Crowell, a relationship that lasted from 1979 to 1983. In 1983, she became the manager for Gill, who was at the time a guitarist in Crowell’s band The Cherry Bombs. After Martin connected Gill with then-RCA Records Nashville head Joe Galante, he signed a label deal with RCA, which would launch Gill to country music stardom on the strength of songs including “Oklahoma Borderline,” “When I Call Your Name” and “I Still Believe in You.”


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In the Music Maven documentary trailer, Gill calls Martin “one of the special people on earth that uses her gift for the right reasons. There’s no question she’s a rare breed.”

“Mary and I started working together in ’85,” Galante tells Billboard in a statement. “Her knowledge, frankness, humor and wit were a powerful combination. We hit it off instantly. She was never interested in musical trends. Mary was focused on artists that could make music that would last. She was respected and loved by people throughout the industry. Mary raised the bar for us all creatively. I will miss that smile and distinctive laugh.”

Martin halted work as Gill’s manager when she joined RCA in an A&R role. While at the label, she signed artists including singer-songwriter Matraca Berg and guided the careers of artists including Lorrie Morgan and Clint Black.

“Mary was a big, big part of my early career,” Morgan told Billboard via a statement. “She was a fierce advocate and a creative strategist. She had an amazing, innate gift for artists and songs. Mary had a salty vocabulary, and she was quite funny, which I learned during our many lunches together. When Mary believed in someone, she gave her all, and I mean all! She could stand toe-to-toe with anyone and would do so wholeheartedly for those she championed. The word is thrown around far too much, but in this case, it is so accurate: Mary was ‘passionate’ in all she did. I am grateful to have experienced her influence and guidance.”

Martin won a Grammy in 2002 for co-producing (with Bonnie Garner and Luke Lewis) the tribute album Timeless — Hank Williams Tribute, which was voted best country album. It was also Martin who offered early career encouragement to another triple-threat singer-songwriter-guitarist named Keith Urban, encouraging him to move to Nashville from Australia to pursue his musical aspirations.

“Time and again, Mary Martin spotted great talents and elevated their careers,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, in a statement. “Early on, she connected Bob Dylan to her friends the Hawks, who became the Band. She managed Leonard Cohen in his first musical outings, then guided the budding solo careers of Van Morrison, Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill. At Warner Bros., she signed future Country Music Hall of Fame member Emmylou Harris, at RCA she helped sign and develop Clint Black and Lorrie Morgan, and she encouraged a young Keith Urban to move from Australia to Nashville. Mary’s unerring feel for songs and performers was legendary, and she was a fierce ally for the artists she represented.”

Martin was also a survivor of sexual assault and became a strong advocate for justice for fellow survivors.

In 2007, Martin was given a lifetime achievement award by the Nashville music industry group SOURCE and celebrated with the Americana Music Association’s Jack Emerson Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2009, she was honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as part of the Louise Scruggs Memorial Forum.

Jessica Nicholson

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