Specialty Records Founder, Rock ‘N’ Roll Pioneer Art Rupe Dies
Art Rupe, the creator of the legendary Specialty Records label and an early rock ‘n’ roll music tycoon, died on April 15 at his home in Santa Barbara, California. He was 104 years old. Following its 1946 debut in Los Angeles,
Specialty championed such legendary musicians as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Lloyd Price, Roy Milton, and Percy Mayfield. Rupe was also a businessman in the oil and gas industry. He committed his later decades to the activities of his Santa Barbara-based Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.
Arthur Goldberg, Rupe’s father, was born into a working-class Jewish family in Pennsylvania. He grew raised on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Growing up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, he developed an interest in blues, gospel, and R&B music.
Rupe “went to college at Virginia Tech and Miami University of Ohio, and in 1939 set off for Los Angeles to take his place in the world,” according to the foundation. After migrating to the West, he changed his surname to Rupe after discovering from his grandfather that it had been the family name before Goldberg was adopted at Ellis Island.
Rupe worked as a ship tester at Terminal Island during WWII. However, he combined his passion for music with a desire to succeed in business. He founded JukeBox Records with partner Ben Siegert in 1944 and scored a regional hit with the Sepia Tones’ “Boogie No. 1.” With the debut of Specialty in 1946, however, Rupe went his own way.”
Over the next 15 years, Specialty became one of the most important independent recording businesses, with worldwide distribution,” according to the foundation. Rupe’s work at Specialty was important in the creation of rock ‘n’ roll as a new musical genre.”Starting with the timeless “Tutti Frutti” in 1955, Little Richard was Specialty’s biggest hitmaker.
“Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and “Rip It Up,” all R&B and rock classics, were among Little Richard’s other Specialty hits. In 1990, Saul Zaentz’s Fantasy Records purchased Specialty’s masters. Concord, the indie music behemoth, now owns and distributes them.
Rupe was mining a different kind of energy at the same time he was blazing roads in pop music. In the 1950s, he began investing in oil and gas development. He started in Texas and eventually expanded to West Virginia and Ohio.
According to the foundation’s website, Rupe’s charitable goal was grant making that aimed to “achieve constructive social change by exposing the light of truth on vital and difficult problems.” “It achieves this objective through supporting scholarly studies, education, research, and public debate,
as well as disseminating the results to all sectors of the public through arange of media.”The foundation supports debate in high school, college, and civic settings. It also includes a caregiver training program for persons who have dementia-affected loved ones.
Beverly Rupe Schwarz, Rupe’s daughter, a son-in-law, Leo Schwarz, and a granddaughter, Madeline Kahan, are among Rupe’s survivors.
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