Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Sam Holdsworth, Former Billboard Publisher and Co-Owner, Dead at 72

Sam Holdsworth, Former Billboard Publisher and Co-Owner, Dead at 72

Sam Holdsworth, former editor-in-chief and publisher of Billboard, died May 18 of a heart attack. He was 72.

Holdsworth, who was also co-founder of Musician magazine, was part of a consortium that bought Billboard Publications Inc. (BPI) in 1984 from the Littleford family in a move that led him to become Billboard’s publisher. 


The consortium was helmed by investor Boston Ventures and an internal BPI management group fronted by Holdsworth and Jerry Hobbs in a move that was seen as a non-disruptive way to keep BPI — which included Billboard, Musician and Amusement Business, among other titles — intact. Hobbs, who had served as executive vp of BPI and Billboard’s publisher, became president/CEO of the new entity, while Holdsworth became publisher of Billboard and then publisher/editor-in-chief. BPI had purchased Musician in 1981, which brought Holdsworth into the company.

“As publisher, Sam had a wonderful calming influence on all around him in an otherwise stressful publishing environment. I’ll always appreciate the faith he showed in me and his willingness to delegate crucial tasks to his trusted management team,” Ken Schlager, who served as managing editor under Holdsworth, tells Billboard.

“He and Jerry Hobbs brought Billboard into a new era,” says Adam White, who was Billboard‘s editor-in-chief when Holdsworth became publisher, before leaving in 1985 and then coming back as international editor in 1989. “For that alone, he should be remembered.”

Holdsworth and his childhood friend, Gordon Baird, founded Musician magazine in 1976. “He was the brains and taste and I was the mouth and energy…Our early days as a magazine for school music programs were so rocky, until Sam proposed a sharp left turn after our first year to jazz and rock,” Baird wrote in a piece published Monday (June 10) in Massachusetts’ The Gloucester Times. The two had met in Gloucester 70 years earlier as tots, as their mothers were best friends. 

With its new direction, Musician quickly became a must-read for music aficionados and artists alike and was able to attract top-notch music journalists who appreciated the trust Holdsworth gave them to steer their own pieces. “Sam was able to cajole them in to writing major pieces at a fraction of the price [that Rolling Stone paid writers],” Baird continued. “The photogs followed. Musician took off. Readers came to us, record company publicists came to us, Paul McCartney came to us, Springsteen, Michael Jackson, George Harrison, Bono, Clapton and Steely Dan came to us to be interviewed. Sam’s formula was the music first and the lifestyle a distant second.” 

When BPI approached Holdsworth and Baird to buy Musician, “Sam was totally visionary and bargained for half the purchase price in Billboard stock,” Baird added.

 “At that time, I was responsible for the growth and development of Billboard and its numerous ancillary products,” Hobbs says. “After a lunch in NYC, we quickly decided the fit would be a good one and in early 1981 our partnership began when Billboard Publications acquired [Musician]. Little did we anticipate our relationship would be so fruitful, exciting and long-lasting. Moreover, that it’d evolve into a lifelong personal friendship.”

Hobbs had found the perfect partner to help realize his goal of acquiring and expanding BPI to include not only music properties but also those devoted to film and theater as well as art and design. “During my first year working with Sam, his talents, personality and entrepreneurial spirit became apparent,” Hobbs says. “I realized I’d need a partner to help orchestrate a deal, raise the funds and execute on a plan we would develop to take the business forward.”

Hobbs and Holdsworth’s plan changed how Billboard moved forward with a model that still works today. “We were keen to develop data to complement and expand the information we would gather for our publications and the audiences we served,” Hobbs says. “In effect, we would utilize Billboard as the model for our new venture. Unlike most other B2B publishers then who were mainly dependent on advertisers for their revenue, we wanted to create and own products and services that our audiences would be willing to pay for to receive.”

In 1994, Dutch publisher VNU acquired the American titles, at which point Holdsworth left Billboard and moved with his family to New Mexico. He later became part of an investment group led by JP Morgan Partners. One of their acquisitions was Ryko Corporation, which included the Rykodisc label; Holdsworth oversaw the company until Warner Music Group bought it in 2006. “He was very good at looking beyond the past and around the corner,” says Baird, who talked to Holdsworth hours before he died. “He was also good at being the in right place at the right time for some of those label buyouts and sales, some of them came to him.”

Holdsworth continued to work with investments, as well as paint and write, from his farm in Silver City, N. Mex. He was working on the farm when his heart attack occurred. At the time of his death, he was managing director of Sword, Rowe and Company, a New Jersey-based investment banking and Mergers & Acquistions firm, according to his LinkedIn profile.

As Hobbs says, Holdsworth possessed a rare blend of both creative and business acumen and had a discerning eye. “‘Sam was, indeed, a Renaissance man. He exhibited an alluring blend of the mandatory characteristics: authenticity, creativity, curiosity and resilience, the sine qua non elements that draw people in,” Hobbs says. “And he never confused the most with the best.”

Survivors include Holdsworth’s wife, Betsy, and his three children. 

By Michael

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