03 April 2023

Record executive who signed Madonna, Seymour Stein, dies aged 80

03 April 2023

Seymour Stein, the brash, prescient and highly successful founder of Sire Records who helped launched the careers of Madonna, Talking Heads and many others, has died at the age of 80.

Stein, who helped set up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, died of cancer in Los Angeles, according to a statement by his family.

Born in 1942, Stein was a New York City native who as a teenager worked in the summer at Cincinnati-based King Records, James Brown’s label. By his mid-20s he had co-founded Sire Productions, soon to become Sire Records.

Obsessed with the Billboard music charts since childhood, he was known for his deep knowledge and appreciation of music and would prove an astute judge of talent during the 1970s era of New Wave, a term he helped popularise, signing record deals with Talking Heads, the Ramones and the Pretenders.

Talking Heads’ manager Gary Kurfirst told the Rock Hall around the time of Stein’s induction in 2005: “Seymour’s taste in music is always a couple of years ahead of everyone else’s.”

His most lucrative discovery happened in the early 1980s, when he heard the demo tape of a little known singer-dancer from the New York club scene – Madonna.

Stein wrote in his 2018 memoir, Siren Song: “I liked Madonna’s voice, I liked the feel, and I liked the name Madonna. I liked it all and played it again.”

He was in hospital with a heart infection when he first learned of Madonna, but he was so eager to meet that he had her brought to his room.

“She was all dolled up in cheap punky gear, the kind of club kid who looked absurdly out of place in a cardiac ward,” he wrote.

“She wasn’t even interested in hearing me explain how much I liked her demo. ‘The thing to do now,’ she said, ‘is sign me to a record deal.'”

Sire artists also included Ice T, the Smiths, Depeche Mode, the Replacements and Echo and the Bunnymen, along with the more-established Lou Reed and Brian Wilson, who recorded with Sire later in their careers.

Stein was married briefly to record promoter and real estate executive Linda Adler, with whom he had two children: filmmaker Mandy Stein and Samantha Lee Jacobs, who died of brain cancer in 2013.

Stein and his wife divorced in the 1970s, and years later he came out as gay.

Mandy Stein said: “I am beyond grateful for every minute our family spent with him, and that the music he brought to the world impacted so many people’s lives in a positive way.”

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