Gil Friesen; record executive nurtured eclectic artists list

NEW YORK — Gil Friesen — who achieved success in films and television, but was best known for helping establish A&M Records as an artists’ haven for an eclectic stable of performers includeding Carole King, the Police, Barry White, and the Carpenters — died Dec. 13 in Los Angeles. He was 75.

The cause was leukemia, said Herb Alpert, the trumpeter and band leader who cofounded A&M Records with the music promoter Jerry Moss in 1962 and hired Mr. Friesen as one of its first employees. (‘‘A’’ stood for Alpert and ‘‘M’’ for Moss. Mr. Friesen was known as the ampersand, Alpert said.)

Named president in 1977, Mr. Friesen helped make A&M one of the largest independent record ­labels, as well as a successful independent film studio. He resigned in 1990 after the company’s sale to PolyGram.


A&M’s artists during the ‘70s and ‘80s — most of them young, virtual unknowns when they signed with the label — included Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, Squeeze, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Janet Jackson, Al Green, Amy Grant, Suzanne Vega, Styx, Supertramp, and Peter Frampton. Mr. Friesen was known as the young artists’ ally, providing them time to develop musically, as well as giving them books to read, sharing his enthusiasm for modern art, and involving them in decisions on business matters.

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Mr. Friesen ‘‘treated us like adults,’’ Sting said in 2006, recalling his years with the Police.

Alpert, winner of seven Grammy Awards as a musician and leader of the Tijuana Brass, called Mr. Friesen ‘‘our organizer and our visionary.’’

‘’He wasn’t a musician himself, but he had a real feeling for musicians,’’ he added.

In 1981, Mr. Friesen persuaded Alpert and Moss to start a film division. Over the next decade A&M Films produced about 20 movies under Mr. Friesen’s oversight, including the 1985 hit ‘‘The Breakfast Club”; two early John Cusack comedies, ‘‘Better Off Dead’’ (1985) and ‘‘One Crazy Summer’’ (1986); ‘‘Blaze,’’ a 1989 biopic about stripper Blaze Starr (played by Lolita Davidovich) and Governor Earl K. Long of Louisiana (Paul Newman); and ‘‘The Mighty Quinn,’’ with Denzel Washington, also in 1989.


Mr. Friesen was later a founding partner of the Classic Sports cable channel, which was sold to ESPN in 1997 for $175 million. He became known in Hollywood as one of the few executives with entrepreneurial successes in the three major segments of the entertainment industry: music, film, and television.

Gilbert Friesen was born in Pasadena, Calif.