Harold Childs, who broke through industry barriers in the ‘70s as a Black man overseeing pop music promotion at A&M Records, died of leukemia in Los Angeles on Sunday, Aug. 27. He was 80 years old. Childs’ death follows that of A&M co-founder Jerry Moss, who died Aug. 16.
Known for his innate business savvy, vibrant personality and dapper style, Childs spent more than 50 years in a music career that included tenures with RCA Victor, Qwest Records and Warner Bros. Records.
“He was a consummate ‘Record Man,’” Direct Management co-founder Martin Kirkup tells Billboard of Childs, a longtime friend and fellow A&M alumnus. “I was vp of artist development from 1975-85 and worked with Harold for most of that decade. He was passionate about the wide range of music that A&M embraced, with great instincts for the tactics and strategy of breaking records. But what really made him special was his personal warmth, good humor and his endless interest in other people. That’s why people were so devoted to him.”
Ray Harris, founder and chairman emeritus of the Living Legends Foundation, worked with Childs at Warner Bros. where the former served as the label’s senior vp of Black music promotion. Sharing his memories of Childs with Billboard, Harris says, “They say your name and reputation will reach a stranger’s door before you do. It was such with Harold Childs. When I entered the music business in the ‘70s, Harold was one of the people I would constantly hear about. He worked at one of the hottest independent labels [A&M] as vp of promotion in charge of the pop department as well as other genres of music.
“That was unique,” adds Harris, “because Harold was an African American male navigating through a pop world normally carved out for our white counterparts. There was very few African Americans moving in that world during that period. Childs not only moved in it, he was a dominant part of that company’s success. I got to know Harold and found him to be classy, fashion-forward, professional and a nice guy. Sleep well my friend, you’ve made your mark.”
Born May 8, 1943 in Philadelphia, Childs was a student at the city’s Dobbins High School when he began working in the stock room at Marnel Record Distributors. He later segued to RCA Victor as regional promotion manager where he worked with artists such as Peter Nero and Henry Mancini. Then in 1969 he joined A&M as national sales and promotion director for its CTI (Creed Taylor International) imprint, based in New York.
Relocating to Los Angeles in 1971, Childs retained his same role for A&M solely after CTI became independent. During his subsequent appointments as vp of promotion in 1974 and senior vp of promotion and sales in 1978, Childs played an integral role in A&M’s evolution as one of the industry’s leading independent labels in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He and his team broke projects from the Carpenters, Cat Stevens, Captain & Tennille, Peter Frampton, Supertramp, the Brothers Johnson, Styx, Joe Jackson, the Police, the Human League and George Harrison’s A&M-distributed Dark Horse label.
Leaving A&M in 1984, Childs joined PolyGram as senior vp and then served as president of Quincy Jones’ Qwest Records at the latter’s request. During a later stint at Warner Bros. Records, Childs headed the label’s jazz promotion department, working with a roster that included Al Jarreau, David Sanborn and George Benson, who began his career at CTI.
Ed Eckstein, former president of Mercury Records, described being mentored by Childs as “a godsend and a blessing to say the least. I got to see firsthand — during my years working with Quincy Jones — [Childs’] unique field general, fearless-leader style of leadership; the level of respect he received from his troops and associates, coupled with the results he accrued, was awe inspiring. Harold was smart, incisive, sharp, demanding, funny, fair and the Essence of Sartorial Splendor at all times.”
Childs’ resumé includes serving as senior consultant for Soundboard Marketing. The Los Angeles-based company has collaborated with brands such as Paul Mitchell Salons as well as Timothy B. Schmidt of the Eagles, Ray Parker Jr. and producer Patrick Leonard. Childs was also a consultant for Japanese-based Alpha Records, working as its U.S. liaison in a sales and promotion capacity. The Living Legends Foundation presented Childs with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.
Donations in memory of Harold Childs may be made to The United Negro College Fund.
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