Specialty Records founder, Art Rupe, has died at the age of 104. The music executive and record producer was responsible for giving pop luminaries Sam Cooke and Little Richard their early breaks.
Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, Rupe was one of the great business moguls of the golden age of recorded music. He died on Friday, April 15th, at his home in Santa Barbara, California. His cause of death has not been revealed.
Art Rupe was born Arthur Goldberg and raised just outside Pittsburgh. According to the Arthur Rupe Foundation, he attended college at Virginia Tech and Miami University Ohio before setting off for Los Angeles to “make his way in the world” in 1939.
Following his move to the West Coast, he decided to change his surname to Rupe, having learned from his grandfather that it was his family name before they changed it to Goldberg on relocation to Ellis Island. He spent the Second World War working at Terminal Island testing ships. His passion for blues, gospel and R&B music saw him establish Juke Box Records with Ben Siegert in 1944, which had its first regional hit with the Sepia Tones’ aptly-named ‘Boogie No. 1’.
After the war, Rupe and Siegert parted ways, leaving Art to found Speciality Records, which, over the next 15 years or so, became one of the most successful independent recording companies in America. According to the foundation, “Rupe’s work at Specialty played a key role in the emergence of the new musical genre of rock ‘n’ roll.”
The label’s most successful signer was Little Richard, whose first hit for Speciality Records was his classic 1955 single ‘Tutti Frutti’. He also released ‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ and ‘Rip it Up’ via Speciality. Sam Cooke also recorded some tracks for the label in the mid-1950s, including his doo-wop single ‘You Send Me’.