Friday, July 12, 2024

RIP Tony Martell, Beloved Record Industry Exec Who Raised Hundreds of Millions for Cancer Research


Tony Martell has died at age 90. This amazing person whose name you may not know raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research from the time his son, TJ, died in the early 1970s from leukemia. That’s four decades. Just from 2010 to 2014, the TJ Martell Foundation has given $21 million away in grants and donations.

What a story: TJ died in 1975 at age 21. Most parents would simply be devastated. The Martells (Tony’s wife, Vicky, died last year) jumped into action. The TJ Martell Foundation has been the bulwark of the record industry ever since then. Their annual galas at the Hilton would each year honor the head of a record label. That man would then bring his recording artists to perform at the show, and the night would be historic.

Tony Martell was a sweet guy who everyone adored. His whole career was at Columbia, Epic or Sony as it was finally called. Wikipedia says he’s credited on 50 albums as Executive Producer. Artists included Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Isley Brothers, The O’Jays, George Benson, Gerry Mulligan, Jim Hall, Lalo Schifrin, Bill Withers, Patti Austin, George Duke, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Eumir Deodato, and Stanley Turrentine. Amazing.

Tony, it was an honor to know you. Your son is so proud of you. And all the people who your fundraising efforts helped– it boggles the mind. What a legacy! I hope Sony takes out a full page in your honor in the New York Times. You deserve it.

PS I put up a picture of Tony (he’s the guy with the white hair) surrounded by musicians (and record exec Jason Flom). They loved him.

Here’s Tony’s story, written by him, from the Foundation website:

It began with a promise I made to my dying son.

In 1973, my son, T.J. Martell, was a high school student battling leukemia. He asked me to raise a million dollars for cancer research so that “no one else will have to experience what I am going through.” Although I had no fundraising experience, I agreed.

Two years later, T.J. died at the age of nineteen, and that put my promise in cement. Soon after, I was joined by many of my friends in the music industry like Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington to hold a fundraiser at Buddy Rich’s nightclub in New York. We raised $50,000 and the T.J. Martell Foundation was born.

Over the years, we have kept the Foundation’s roots deep in the music industry and hundreds of volunteers have worked passionately with our staff to raise more than $270 million for leukemia, cancer and AIDS research which has been successfully leveraged into several billion dollars in additional funding from larger funding sources. We are proud of our long history and our reputation for innovation in fundraising and the research we support.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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