Ray Cooper, former Virgin Records America Co-President and subsequently Virgin Records America. — died on Saturday, July 28, in Guildford, Surrey, England. He was 69 and had been suffering from a rare neurological condition, Progressive Primary Aphasia (PPA), which also affected Monty Python’s Terry Jones, causing loss of speech.
During his 46-year career, British-born Cooper was responsible for devising and executing sales and marketing strategies for some of the most successful music artists of the past half-century. Including: U2, Spice Girls, the Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, Peter Gabriel, George Michael, Electric Light Orchestra, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Bob Marley, Grace Jones, Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry, Lenny Kravitz, the Chemical Brothers among many. (See attached A-Z listing of 160 major artists and projects spanning every musical genre – all marketed by Ray Cooper.)
Over the course of his career, Cooper worked for several major UK and US record companies - including Transatlantic Records, Anchor Records, Jet Records, Island Records, Circa Records, Virgin Records UK and Virgin Records America. His role inside record companies grew over the years. He started out as a local salesman, rose to Regional Manager to Sales Manager to Marketing Director, and in latter decades to being Co-Managing Director of Virgin Records UK and then subsequently Co-President of Virgin Records America.
In the mid-1980s while working as Marketing Director of Island Records UK - he formed an enduring working partnership with the company's A&R Director Ashley Newton (currently President of Capitol Music Group). In 1987 the duo created their own UK imprint Circa Records forming an alliance with Virgin Records owner Richard Branson. Their label succeeded in breaking artists such as Massive Attack and Neneh Cherry. They then sold their label to the Virgin Music Group - whose Vice-Chairman Ken Berry rapidly installed them as Co-Managing Directors of Virgin Records UK working under Virgin President Paul Conroy.
After huge worldwide successes with artists such as Spice Girls, The Verve and Daft Punk, in 1998 Cooper and Newton were transferred to Los Angeles and became Co-Presidents of Virgin Records America. With Newton handling A&R and Cooper focused on marketing they took the US label to new heights with multiple successes including Lenny Kravitz, Janet Jackson, Smashing Pumpkins, N.E.R.D, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie
In later years Cooper masterminded the successful music marketing campaign for the Oscar-winning Paul Haggis movie "Crash" and - always looking for new frontiers - he was the worldwide music consultant for the virtual reality company Magic Leap.
He started his career in 1972 as a sales rep at Britain's first fully independent record company, Nat Joseph's Transatlantic Records, selling folk, blues, jazz, roots and esoteric recordings by artists ranging from Bert Jansch and Sonny Rollins to the Brian Eno-produced Portsmouth Sinfonia. He rose through the ranks to become Sales Manager. In the late 1970s, he worked for Ian Ralfini's Anchor Records and then Don Arden's Jet Records - propelling the Electric Light Orchestra's " Out of the Blue” to stratospheric success.
In 1980 he was hired by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell as Sales Director - and subsequently Marketing Director of Island Records UK - where he was responsible for Bob Marley, U2, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and many other successful acts.
Cooper was noted for his very warm, artist-friendly approach, his innovative marketing ideas, his generous nature and a zany self-deprecating wit.
His humor, self-deprecation and generosity is exemplified by a note he wrote in 2005 thanking his first employer from the early 1970s – Transatlantic’s Nat Joseph - when 30 years later he had risen to become Co-President of Virgin Records America:
"I have lived a very privileged and amazingly diverse life. But without your push, drive and encouragement, I could never ever have imagined myself as a successful career-minded individual. I was a pot-smoking, wild-eyed, lazy, dole-addicted, relatively useless member of some hippie society, until you decided to send me out in a mini-van to sell your madcap music ideas to the world of unsuspecting UK record retailers! I got here all because of your rallying call 'get out there and sell more! You're a born salesman!'"
In recent years Cooper was bravely battling a very rare neurological condition Progressive Primary Aphasia (PPA) that eventually robs the brain of the cells that enable all communication. This is the same cruel ailment that has recently afflicted Terry Jones of Monty Python. With typical wit, Cooper condemned his illness as "having a name that makes it sound like a really bad Seventies prog-rock band!"
Away from work Cooper was a voracious reader - devouring books, periodicals, plays, biographies and political satires. He had a huge love of art, he was a film aficionado, he followed politics with a passionate interest, he enjoyed travel and he had a boundless curiosity in people he met. He was noted for his warm generosity to friends old and new.
Cooper died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday, July 28th in Guildford, Surrey, England. He was 69. There will be an intimate family service to lay him to rest in the countryside of his deeply-cherished English homeland. There are plans to honor him with celebrations of his life this December to mark the 70th anniversary of his birth. These are likely to be held in both London and Los Angeles - where he had lived and worked since 1998. Details will be announced later.
Ray is survived by his beloved soulmate Philippa, sister Pam, daughter Becky, grandsons James and Jack, step-daughter Liana, son Christopher-Robin, dearly-loved Dominic - and countless friends throughout the world.
A tribute website RayCooper.info is in preparation.
Tributes have been pouring in from his many friends and admirers in the music world:
Richard Branson - Founder of Virgin Records:
“An extraordinary delightful individual and an incredible talent. Virgin Records would never have grown into the music force it became without him. Much, much love to his family.”
Victoria Beckham - The Spice Girls:
“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Ray Cooper. Ray’s guidance, support, creative and marketing ideas from the very beginning were invaluable to the success of The Spice Girls. It was obvious to all who spent time with Ray that he was not only a favourite to his team, but also a favourite to artists and their managers. Ray had passion for life and his work and it showed in his many successes. I will be forever grateful to Ray Cooper. Ray - Rest In Peace.”
Paul McGuinness - Manager U2 1978-2013:
"When U2 were signed to Island Records in 1980 every label but Island had passed. It was hard to get attention for U2 at first but we had some staunch supporters at Island - including Ray Cooper in Sales and then Marketing. The first two U2 albums "Boy" and "October" didn't have much success but "War" went to No 1 in 1983 which became the norm for U2 from then on. Ray was a delight to work with, ingenious and energetic. His subsequent career with his buddy Ashley Newton at their own label Circa and then Virgin was always interesting to observe. Sorry to lose such a smart music man."