September 11, 2009

In Memoriam: Pierre Cossette

Legendary Producer, Father of the Grammy Awards

By By Mel Cowan

Innovative producer, philanthropist and USC alumnus Pierre Cossette, whose career included successes across the entertainment spectrum, died Friday, September 11 at the age of 85.

"Pierre was a remarkable and visionary producer, who continually altered the entertainment landscape for the better, throughout his career," said Dean Elizabeth M. Daley. "His passion for creating quality entertainment was matched by his desire to celebrate and provide an outlet for as many different voices as possible."

A long-time supporter of USC, in 2005, Cossette created the Pierre Cossette Endowed Fund for Student Support, a need-based award available to all undergraduate Cinematic Arts students.

Born in 1923 in Valleyfield, Province of Quebec, Cossette moved with his family in 1928 to Altadena, California. After graduating from high school, Cossette enlisted in the Army and served in active duty for three years with the 3rd Army 1636 Engineers Battalion during World War II.

Following his military service, Cossette attended Pasadena City College and the University of Southern California on the G.I. Bill. At USC, along with classmates David L. Wolper and Art Buchwald, he became editor of the Daily Trojan campus newspaper and started his own periodical Campus Magazine, which was syndicated to other universities. He graduated from USC in 1949 with a degree in journalism.

After beginning his career at MCA, booking acts for concert halls, Cossette worked his way up to become the head of the Variety Department – Bands and Acts. He left MCA in the early 1960s to form a personal management company, representing stars like Andy Williams, Vic Damone, Ann-Margret, Rowan & Martin and George Hamilton.

Cossette's next challenge came with the creation of Dunhill Records, a record label and publishing company, where he launched the careers of The Mamas and the Papas, Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf and Johnny Rivers. After selling Dunhill, with all its publishing and recording rights to ABC, Cossette dove into television production, producing The Andy Williams Show, The Glen Campbell Music Show and 104 episodes of the sitcom Down to Earth.

Pierre Cossette, shown in 2005 getting a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame, produced the Grammys for 35 years. (Canadian Press)
In 1971, Cossette initiated the live Grammy Awards, having negotiated with the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) for two years for the rights to produce the show. Cossette went onto helm the live show for 35 years, until 2005, when he handed over the reins to his son, John Cossette. Since then, Cossette had held the position of Executive Producer Emeritus of the Grammy Awards.

Cossette Productions produced the first annual Latin Grammys in 2000, and Cossette is the recipient of the Latin Grammy Trustees Award. Cossette produced the Black Entertainment Awards for television, along with 50 star-studded specials for assorted networks, the dramatic mini-series Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story and many movies of the week.

In 1989, Cossette obtained story rights to the life of Will Rogers, and developed and produced The Will Rogers Follies on Broadway, which won six Tony Awards, including one for best musical. His other Broadway productions, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War were also both nominated for Tony Awards.

Cossette fulfilled a life-long dream of becoming a writer, with the 2002 publication of his autobiography chronicling his career in entertainment, Another Day in Showbiz: One Producer's Journey.

Cossette's producing talents were not limited to the screen or the stage: he devoted extensive time to producing massive charity events, like the Rodeo Drive Block Party for The Concern Foundation for Cancer Research. He also helped support the NARAS charities, MusiCares and the Grammy Foundation.
His accolades include the Trustees Award from NARAS in 1995, a Tony, a Grammy, an honorary People's Choice Award, a New York Drama Critics Award and an Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Additionally, Cossette had stars on the Walks of Fame in Hollywood, Canada and Palm Springs.

Having spent his entire career in show business, Cossette showed genuine compassion and understanding for the artists and entertainers he worked with. "Show me any big star, and I'll show you a person who withstood overwhelming rejection at the beginning of his or her career. Being turned down, passed over and told you have no talent is a common experience," he wrote in his autobiography. "We always gear ourselves for perfection, knowing that there's a seventy-percent chance of failure. But you've got to start out with the idea of perfection."

Cossette's constant search for perfection in his own endeavors led to questions from friends, who wondered why he never took vacations. "The truth is that I consider my entire life to have been a vacation," he wrote. "When all is said and done, the best vacation I can imagine is sitting at my desk watching the phones light up, promising me another day in show business."

A memorial service is pending. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to MusiCares (, 3030 Olympic Boulevard, Santa Monica, California 90404, Attn: Dana Tomarken.