Trustees Award: Wilma Cozart Fine

Editor/writer Harry Pearson on 2011 Trustees Award recipient Wilma Cozart Fine and her commitment to progressing classical music
  • Photo: Courtesy of the Fine family
    Wilma Cozart Fine
February 01, 2011 -- 11:28 am PST
By Harry Pearson /

In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award. Each year, The Academy invites friends and colleagues of Special Merit Awards recipients to pay tribute to the honorees' career accomplishments, while also adding colorful anecdotes and personal accounts. In the days leading up to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, will present the tributes to the 12 Special Merit Awards recipients for 2011.

The words Wilma Cozart Fine lived by were "trust your ears." This was the guiding principle that defined her working life. For those who don't know the name, hers was a working life to remember.

Cozart Fine, who died at age 82 in September 2009, was the recording director for Mercury Records' Living Presence classical recordings during the mid-'50s and '60s. And yet, the recordings she produced, though more than 50 years old, even by contemporary standards, sound as fresh on the original LPs and remasterings on CD (she supervised the latter) as any two-channel CDs being issued today.

Cozart Fine was a creature of seeming contradictions. She was a pragmatic, hardheaded visionary, the sharpness of whose business and artistic judgments were matched by the acuity of her hearing. She had an exact memory of the sound of the music she heard and used that as a reference with which to assess any reproductions of it.

She started working for Mercury when it was largely a pop label, taking over its quite small classical division. She built it into a force to be reckoned with, imitated by all the major American labels of the time, even RCA Victor. She signed Antal Dorati (whom she had worked for with the Minneapolis and Dallas Symphony Orchestras, the latter of which she served as his personal secretary and later as de facto manager), Janos Starker, Byron Janis, Paul Paray, Frederick Fennell And The Eastman Wind Ensemble, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, among others. She oversaw the first American recordings made in Cold War Russia, and developed marketing innovations still copied to this day.

Cozart Fine became the keeper of the flame at Mercury, working tirelessly and with an uncompromising will ("the iron fist inside the velvet glove" is a phrase used by more than one associate who worked with her) to preserve the sound of the Living Presence Recordings, which, essentially, she oversaw (with eagle ears), while her husband, C. Robert Fine, provided the engineering know-how to create a simulacrum, which was, at heart, as closely faithful to the original as the technology allowed. All of this was done with minimal miking and jiggling with the signal.

Because of her musical training, both in college and afterward (in Dallas and Minneapolis with Dorati), she subscribed, undeviatingly, to the concept of music itself, the absolute sound, unamplified music occurring in a real space, as her final reference. As a result, virtually every one of the Living Presence issues is a prime example of the recorded art. They were then, still are now, and will continue to be touchstones into the future.

(Harry Pearson is the founding editor of The Absolute Sound, and a longtime reviewer of Cozart Fine's recordings.)

Established in 1967, the Trustees Award Special Merit Award is presented by vote of The Recording Academy's National Trustees to individuals who, during their careers in music, have made contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording. To view a complete list of Trustees Award recipients, click here.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Julie Andrews, Roy Haynes, Juilliard String Quartet, The Kingston Trio, Dolly Parton, Ramones, George Beverly Shea
Trustees Award: Al BellBruce Lundvall
Technical GRAMMY Award: Roger Linn, Waves Audio Ltd.


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