Pierre Cossette, creator of modern Grammys, dies

Pierre Cossette, the Canadian father of the modern Grammy Awards show, and a noted band manager and TV producer, has died at a Montreal hospital. He was 85.

Pierre Cossette, the Canadian father of the modern Grammy Awards show, has died at a Montreal hospital. He was 85.

His death was announced in Santa Monica, Calif., late Friday by the Recording Academy.

Cossette, from Valleyfield, Que., had no end of trouble trying to sell U.S. TV networks on his vision for the Grammy awards gala, which he produced until 2005. ((Mark Mainz/Getty Images))

Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow paid glowing tribute to Cossette.

"It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to our dear friend and father of the Grammy Awards, Pierre Cossette," he said.

The Valleyfield, Que., native was an accomplished television and theatre producer who also managed some of American pop music's most influential early bands.

But he's best known as the visionary who guided the Grammy Awards from its early days as a stuffy, unsuccessful production to the widescreen industry institution it's become.

In its early years, the Grammy show was an hour-long compilation of recorded performances, and it was not a commercial success.

When the production rights became available in 1971, Cossette already had a successful career in the music business as a producer and manager.

Networks skeptical

He had the ambitious idea to turn the show into a grand musical showcase, full of live performances. He had no end of trouble trying to sell networks on his vision for the show.

Executives were particularly skeptical that there was an audience for a performance-based TV show.

But Cossette — nicknamed Showbiz — persevered.

The Grammy Museum, which opened in December 2008, is called the Pierre Cossette Center and contains a corner exhibit dedicated to the feisty Canadian.

In an interview before the 2009 Grammy Awards, Cossette said the acknowledgment served as validation of his life's work.

"I was thrilled," he said. "I could only think back to when we first started it, in ballrooms and dance halls and hotel rooms, and [then] finally growing up to this monster thing.

"And all the trials, tribulations of getting there. Booking the places then having to cancel because either the academy or the record industry wouldn't support it. My part of it, proving them wrong, was exciting for me.

"I was crying like a baby when I saw that sign."

Prior to working on the Grammys, Cossette served as personal manager for Ann-Margaret, Vic Damone, Dick Shawn and Rowan & Martin. He is credited with pioneering the Las Vegas lounge act format.

Soon, Cossette struck out on his own by founding Dunhill Records, where the roster included the Mamas and the Papas, Steppenwolf, Johnny Rivers and Three Dog Night.

Produced TV variety shows

Yet Cossette would take another left turn not long after, selling the label to plunge into the next phase of his career as a television producer.

He began by producing Johnny Mann's Stand Up and Cheer and soon expanded his roster of shows to include The Glen Campbell Show, Sammy Davis's Sammy and Company, Salute, ShaNaNa, and The Andy Williams Show. Cossette's relationship with Williams would prove vital.

Even after Cossette's diligent campaigning, a network would only consent to broadcast his live Grammy Awards show after Williams signed on as host.

But that wasn't the only early hurdle Cossette had to clear. In his first year, he was worried that he wouldn't have a full audience. So he went out on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles and persuaded strangers on the street to come into the Hollywood Palladium for the show.

For Cossette, who produced the show until 2005, the struggles he initially endured only made the ultimate success of the event more rewarding.

"Starting with an idea you couldn't sell to anybody," he once said. "Failure, failure, failure. And then success, success, success. Just climbing that mountain. Put yourself in my shoes. How would you feel?"