André Kostelanetz is given credit by some for inventing Easy Listening music, but I think the whole concept of a genre being ‘invented’ is a little iffy — at least as a conscious act. It seems to me that it’s more of an evolution, a natural process of musicians stretching themselves to find a wider audience.
But the Russian-born Kostelanetz was certainly one of the first to find success by bringing something different to music listeners. By repackaging ‘light’ versions of classical pieces, and later doing orchestral arrangements of jazz, show tunes, and pop music, he reached a lot of people who wouldn’t have otherwise been interested in the original genres. Along the way, he became one of the biggest early radio stars and sold about a zillion records.
Born in St. Petersburg, he grew up during the tumultuous years leading up to the Russian revolution but his interest was in music. His early classical training led him to a spot in the Petrograd choir and by the time he reached adulthood he’d become its director.
In 1922 he emigrated to the United States and began trying to break into arranging and conducting. After spinning his wheels for a while, he was eventually able to find a job directing a radio orchestra, and it would prove to be the key to his future. By the 1930’s he had he own radio show, complete with the largest radio orchestra ever assembled, and was soon one of the biggest stars around.
Recording contracts inevitably followed, and his knowledge of what the public wanted to hear combined with his attention to detail helped make his records big sellers. He was also tremendously in touch with the technical side of the business and developed many innovations.
Over the next several decades his name continued to be synonymous with fine music, arranged and performed in a way that was enormously appealing to listeners everywhere. By the time of his death in 1980, he’d established himself as one of the pioneers in the evolution of a genre — and had sold 52 million records.