Irv Lichtman, for decades one of Billboard’s most respected and beloved editors and columnists and an advocate for songwriters who chiseled out a niche as the go-to expert in music publishing, has died at the age of 87.
Lichtman passed peacefully in his sleep on Tuesday (May 2), his son David Lichtman confirms to Billboard.
Born May 21, 1935, Lichtman worked at Cashbox right out of college, from 1956 until 1975.
He went on to work for NY Times Music Publishing for roughly a year, before joining Audio Fidelity Records. From there, Lichtman made the leap to Billboard, joining the music trade in late 1978.
It proved a perfect fit.
Former executive editor Ken Schlager remembers Lichtman as a “genuinely warm and funny man,” whose columns Inside Track and Words & Music were a “must-read.”
“When I joined Billboard as managing editor in 1985, Irv as deputy editor unselfishly guided me every step of the way, from putting out the weekly magazine to learning my way around the business,” Schlager says. “I could not have asked for a more generous or knowledgeable mentor. It was, as Bogie would say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
An “incredibly sensitive soul,” Lichtman cared deeply about his colleagues and the music industry, notes Schlager, especially the publishing business, and, “through his deep and wide network of sources, served the industry well as a conduit for scoops they couldn’t find anywhere else.”
His joyful trait was always close to the surface, recounts Linda Moran, CEO/president of Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“Irv was one of the wittiest guys I have ever known with a great sense of humor,” she says. “For many years he was the face of Billboard because he knew everyone and he was respected for his encyclopedic knowledge of music while exuding trustworthiness which is a tremendous asset for any journalist.”
As a Songwriters Hall of Fame Board member he represented the SHOF on the Library of Congress’s National Recording Preservation Board due to his extensive knowledge of music, from decades before his birth through to contemporary.
Those who knew him well remember Lichtman’s love for show tunes, and “he could always be counted on to be the champion, fighting for the Broadway songwriters on the [SHOF] induction ballot because he felt they were under-appreciated,” recounts Moran.
But his love for music went far beyond show tunes, as he stayed up with contemporary artists. “I recall a moment walking on Broadway when we encountered the rapper M.C. Hammer. Irv bubbled over with enthusiasm, greeting Hammer like an old friend. I don’t believe they had ever met,” Schlager recalls.
After retiring from Billboard in February 2001, Lichtman devoted much of his time to the Friedberg Jewish Community Center, where he remained an active participant in the Current Events Club. His favorite charity was Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the country.
He never lost his love for the Yankees or that famous, “if corny,” sense of humor, remarks Schlager. The pair frequently lunched together. “Invariably, when the waiter or waitress first approached out table, Irv would greet the server with his patented line: ‘We’re in a hurry. Can we please get the check?’ Some got it, some didn’t. We lunched for what I didn’t know would be the final time last fall. On that occasion I noticed he didn’t use his usual line. His explanation: ‘I can’t. They know me here.’ Amazingly, he had come up with a fresh punchline.”
Fellow former Billboard Pro Audio editor Paul Verna has similarly fond memories. “It’s telling that on my first day at Billboard, no one thought to tell me where the bathrooms were. Irv literally showed me the way, and then would proceed to show me the ropes of the music industry and our role in covering it,” he comments. “To say he was a mentor is an understatement. I’ll always cherish having had the guiding hand of someone who had seen so much. But as we all know, the best thing about Irv wasn’t his industry experience — it was his humor, his generosity, and his always cheerful spirit.”
Lichtman is survived by his wife Phyllis, sons Steven and David and grandchildren, Kate, Jane, Emma, Jack, Frank and Ben. He was preceded in death by his son, Robbie.
His funeral will take place Friday (May 5) on Long Island. Details are to come.