Let us now unpraise famous men

Last month, playing off a New York Times obituary, I did a sendoff for designer Alex Steinweiss, credited as the inventor of the record-album cover.

Said credit may have been a tad premature. Appended to the JazzTimes obituary for Steinweiss:

According to two emails received by JazzTimes following the publication of this news item, from Cary Ginell and Michael Biel, Steinweiss did not actually invent the album cover. Wrote Biel, “There were some notable artistic jazz album covers prior to Steinweiss. Two albums by Lee Wiley, Willie the Lion Smith, Bessie Smith, Blackbirds revival cast, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Symposium of Swing, are just a few of the jazz albums with illustrated covers that came out before Steinweiss, let alone over a hundred others of all types.”

Biel declined to toot his own horn, but Ginell reported that Biel had made a presentation at last year’s Association for Recorded Sound Collections conference in New Orleans, in which he exhibited actual photographs of pre-Steinweiss cover art. (The conference abstract [pdf] contains Biel’s own executive summary.) Said Biel:

Record collectors and archivists know that this isn’t true, but the writers who are promoting these tales and elevating Steinweiss to mythical proportions are exclusively noncollectors or are limited to CDs and LPs.

Or, in my case, perhaps too willing to believe The New York Times.

(Shout-out to old CompuServe pal Jeff Tamarkin, who wrote — and then updated — the JazzTimes version of the Steinweiss obit.)


  1. McGehee »

    10 August 2011 · 9:31 am

    Or, in my case, perhaps too willing to believe The New York Times.

    Tsk tsk.

  2. CGHill »

    10 August 2011 · 9:48 am

    Just what we needed around here: more multi-tsking.

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