That’s Ella Fitzgerald singing in front of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Jack Robbins on the right. Born Jacob J. Robbins (1894) in Massachuchutts, he learned Music Publishing as a sheet music salesman and song-plugger (promo man) and by the 1920s founded Robbins Music Corp.
His hundreds of successful copyrights speak for themselves: “Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue”, “Blue Moon”, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”, “Ebb Tide”, “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good”, “Deep Purple”, “I’m In The Mood For Love”, “Three Coins In The Fountain”, “Somethings Gotta Give”, “That Lucky Old Sun”, etc. – all recognized classics of popular music in America and the world.
According to the Continuum Encyclopedia Of Popular Music of the World, “Robbins was an astute assessor of talent, particularly of band leaders who could produce and promote music. This attribute helped to jump-start the career of Paul Whiteman, among others, for Robbins encouraged Victor to sign the bandleader after he discovered him in 1926.”
Robbins understanding of promotion and the key role of bandleaders of the day led to many promotion techniques including paying for arrangements of Robbins’ songs. For example, Chic Webb’s band used many Robbins songs in Ella Fitzgeralds recording successes such as “A-Tisket-A-Tasket”. Robbins published music during the golden age of sheet music sales – a hit could sell multi-millions. Gradually, radio performances and record mechanical also became important sources of revenues.
Recognizing the importance of music in film, Robbins, along with a collection of publishers like Leo Feist Inc. and film companies (MGM) formed a music publishing dynasty known as the Big Three Music Corporation, Robbins, Feist and Miller. Music became an integral part of movies in the 1930s and Robbins felt the studios were underpaying for their usage. He won a suit against the studios and ASCAP but subsequently sold out to MGM in 1935. The MGM movie musicals of the thirties, forties and fifties, including “Singin’ In The Rain” used many of Jack Robbins successes. He died in New York in 1959 and his descendants are still involved in music publishing today. The catalogue has been sold several times over the years and is currently owned by EMI Music Publishing.
The lesson to be learned from Jack Robbins, the entrepreneur, was his talent for signing the great songs by the great songwriters of the time and promoting them successfully to those who could expose the songs to the widest audience – in the early days, the bandleaders. Later, he recognized that one song first introduced in a movie released country-wide could reach millions in one week faster than any other medium and the importance of new genre versions and covers.