Tom Noonan – In Memoriam

I just found out this morning that my old friend, Tommy Noonan, passed away two weeks ago. Tom was one of the real gentlemen of the music business. Back when it was about people and not just about profits.

I brought Tom out to Australia in the early 1990's to speak at a conference along with a couple of his friends with a view to building a bridge of understanding for entrepreneurs in music with the reality of how the American music industry worked, and he was, as always, just brilliant….

Tom was the guy who invented to Billboard Top 100 chart…..

Here is the full text of the eulogy from Tom's funeral. Regardless of whether you are interested in the music industry, it is worth spending the time to read. Tom was a great human being… (I am not sure who gave the eulogy)


What do you say about someone who was bigger than life?
Someone who brightened up a room when he walked in?
Someone who we all loved?

He so enjoyed telling fabulous stories during his 55-plus years in our music business – several of those stories were entirely based in fact.

Thomas or … Earl, his real first name, was born in the Bronx, but spent much of his early childhood in Quebec and Prince Edward Island.  Throughout his life, Tom maintained an allegiance and devotion to his Canadian roots — he visited often to see his friends and relatives, and to once again enjoy the beauty of the country to our north.

One of Tom's favorite early memories was that of working his way through high school by tossing nickel bag peanuts at Yankee stadium.  On many occasions he handed peanuts and beer to a baseball legend who he absolutely revered. That former player he often had conversations with, and never thought to ask for an autograph, was Babe Ruth.

Tom later spent 2 years in the navy just as World War II was nearing its end.

Tom was a great athlete.  He played football,  hockey and minor league baseball, I believe in the Detroit Tiger Organizaton.

He graduated from Seton Hall university in 1952.  He also took courses at Columbia university.

In the summer of 1949, as he was finishing college, Tom took a job at Billboard magazine as a part time summer replacement employee.  Then, upon graduation, he moved up to office manager, then music cub reporter and assistant chart editor.

In 1954, Tom was promoted to “Director of Charts” — and the music industry as we know it was about to change.

At that time, Billboard only had a top 30 singles chart, which, at the time, was dominated by middle of the road artists such as Eddie Fisher, Tony Bennett, Patti Page, Doris Day, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra. 

In the summer of 1955, Tom was on the ground floor of the birth of rock and roll and was well aware of such emerging artists as Little Richard, chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

To better reflect this exciting new music, tom requested that Billboard expand its top 30 to a top 100.  It took him four months, but he finally convinced his boss/owner Bill Littleford.

Tom then created three top 100 charts – one for single sales, one for juke boxes and one for sheet music.

In the summer of 1957, Tom combined the three charts into one — and with the help of his thirteen year-old intern Seymour Stein, they named this new combined chart “the billboard hot 100 singles chart,” which has been the barometer of hits in the music business for the past 50 years.  It is remains today, the bible of the industry.

Tom also invented the term, “bubbling under” for the songs that were moving up but not ready to chart in the hot 100.  He also re-named the “country and western” charts to just “country” and renamed the black music charts — known then as the “race” charts — to “rhythm & blues”.

In 1965, tom left Billboard and joined Columbia records under President Goddard Lieberson, and formed a new label, Date Records.  Date had success with The Buckinghams and Peaches & Herb. Tom later became Columbia's head of promotion, the equivalent to that of “Senior Vice President of Promotion” in today’s terms.

Columbia's a&r chief at that time was…… remember the tv show?  “sing along with Mitch”?)  Yes – Mitch Miller, who refused to sign any rock and roll acts. Artists at Columbia at the time were Percy Faith, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Johnny Ray, Johnny Cash, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy williams, Nat King Cole & Barbra Streisand.

As Tom walked in the door, Columbia was now signing artists such as Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, The Chambers Brothers, Aantana, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Janis Joplin. It was a fabulous time.

Tom loved to tell the stories about the four lawyers at Columbia who would always come to his office begging him for concert tickets for the artists just mentioned. 

Those lawyers were: Al Teller, Dick Asher, Walter Yetnikoff and Clive Davis.

One year later, Lieberson retired after some thirty years at the helm and Clive Davis became Columbia's president. 

He kept Tom on as head of promotion and they worked together to achieve success never before seen at the label, catapulting Columbia to the top where it held the highest chart share in the industry.

Not long after,   Berry Gordy came calling, and Tom moved to Detroit to become VP of Marketing for Motown Records during their heyday working with The Four Tops, The Temptations, Diana, Marvin, Smokey and Stevie.

Within a few days of starting his new job, Berry called Tom into his office.  He said that there was this new group that Diana loved and Berry asked Tom to rent a van and go the airport to pick up these five little kids from Gary Indiana. Tom picked them up and drove them to Berry’s boat house for their first ever rehearsal.

The Jackson 5 were signed to Motown that day.

After two years, Tom moved back to new york as president of Metromedia Records which, at that time was having success with The Winstons and Bobby Sherman.

In 1972, he became VP of Marketing at Polydor where he helped break five acts in one year including Lily Tomlin, Mandrill and Slade.

One year later, 1973, Tom moved again, this time to Los Angeles to again work with Berry Gordy as VP of Marketing and Assistant to the President. He made new strides including bringing country music to Motown and, along with Bob Fead formed the first independent distribution company which included a&m & Motown.  It was called  “Together Music Distribution”.

In 1975, Tom returned to Billboard magazine as associate publisher and director of sales and marketing worldwide, he oversaw the sales offices in nine countries and helped take the sales of the magazine from three million to twelve million dollars.  He developed a new concept of doing special issues and had one with 157 full color ads. 

In 1983, tom moved back into the chart department, this time overseeing all charts from both coasts and helped with the development of the Billboard information network.  Tom left billboard in 1990 after 41 years in and out of the company.  He then handed off the baton to Michael Ellis and Geoff Mayfield.

He joined Johnny Barbis and me to form new marketing, and in 1992, Tom and I, along with Jack Ashton, Gregg Bell and Rob Gold founded the “charts” magazine.  We based our methodolgy on the premise that Soundscan, which was new to the industry, had left a void as it did not monitor the 20,000 mom & pop stores that one- stops would sell to.  “The Charts” was truly successful and supported by all record labels but proved too costly to produce and still make a profit. The charts closed in the summer of 1994. 

Industry leaders who believed and supported the venture were Donnie Einner, Lou Mann, Jim Swindell, Jim Scully, Joe Mansfield, Paul Smith,  Phil Q, Rich Kudolla, Steve Berman, Russ Regan, Pete Jones, Russ Bach, Jim Caparro, Jim Urie, Richard Palmese, Tom Carrabba and Irving Azoff.

Tom then consulted various labels as well as promoting reissues and special oldies packages with Howie Rosen and myself.

Throughout the '80s and early '90s, tom taught an extension class at UCLA called “marketing of hit records,” and taught “management in the record business” for three years at Trebas institute.

The UCLA class was slotted for 30 students each year, but it expanded until finally closed when there were over 130 students in the class.  Tom was voted UCLA extension class teacher of the year three times in ten years.

This was a ten-week class.  Tom’s format was that he would speak for the first hour, then have two hours which included, special guests each week, like a record company head of sales, a head of promotion, publicity, a program director, etc.  They would speak and then have a Q&A.

Week seven each year was a tour of a&m records, which I was thrilled to help him with.  Week nine featured a manager and the final class had a recording artist who was never revealed until that night.  Those who spoke to the class included Rod Stewart, Elton John, and Bob Seger, just to name three of the ten artists.

But, here’s the story to top them all:  Tom was riding on an escalator at LAX when he spotted Stevie Wonder on the other side surrounded by six body guards.  He was 20 or 30 feet away when he instictively shouted, ‘Stevie”.  He had not seen in over seven years.  Stevie immediately shouted back, “Tommy, is that you?”  they talked for awhile.  Tom then said, “Stevie, this is no big deal, but I do a class at UCLA and if you are in town on November third, I would love you to be my guest for two hours or even one.  Stevie said he would do it.”

About five weeks before, Tom confirms with management.  It’s a go.  Two weeks before, Tom calls, “it’s a go”.  Three days before, Tom calls – no return call.  Two days before – again – no return call.  The day of event, the manager calls and confirms that Stevie will be at the class and takes down the particulars. 

While om is doing the first hour, a UCLA security staffer comes into the classroom and tells Tom he must move the class to a different room.  They relocate to the new room.  Tom continues to speak to the class.  There is a curtain behind Tom in the new room.  Unbeknown to him while he is speaking, the curtain opens, lights go down and behind the curtain is Stevie Wonder and an eight piece band.  They do a set of about 8 songs and then he talks and answers questions with the students for more than two hours. 

Stevie told the students that he had flown his entire band and the equipment to la from Detroit specifically for that class  because of his love for Tom.

In 1985, several major label people decided to throw a surprise birthday party for Tom.  We planned it meticulously.  It was a Saturday night.  We made up a story and told Tom that our buddy, Jerry Reuss, pitcher for the LA Dodgers had invited us to a very special “Dodger movie star night” at the stadium. 

The story continued that he reserved four seats for us in the fifth row behind home plate amongst such stars as Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson, you get the idea.  Jerry was going to send a limo for us but the limo could only make one stop so it was to be at my house at 8pm. 

Now, this was a different day and age.  The record companies all pitched in lots of money so that this party would be one to remember.  Elliott Spitzer, if you’re in the house, the statute of limitations is well past.

But, as all well planned events go, a problem occured.  After four weeks of planning and thousands of dollars spent for food, valet, heat lamps, rented tables, chairs, a lifesize Tom Noonan look-alike doll, etc, Tom’s wife, Sandy gets very sick on the Tuesday before the party and is rushed to the hospital. 

We sent one of our party planners, Polly Anthony over to the hospital to see her.  When Polly sees Sandy with 17 tubes in her mouth, she tells Sandy, who was in on the surprise, by the way, that we would cancel the party. 

Sandy, only able to write, takes a tablet of paper and writes:  “no – I’ll be okay.  Do not cancel the party.”  the party is still on.  Mike Lessner, Thom Gorman, Steve Meyer, Polly and I take a conference call the next day and against our better judgement, but deferring to Sandy, we agree to continue the event as planned.  

So, this was the plan.  We would have Mike Lessner pick up Tom at his home and drive him to my house where the limo supposedly would be waiting.  Cedar’s Sinai did release her on Saturday morning – same day as the party.  She tells Tom that she’s fine and that Tom must go to the game.  He says “no way” but she insists and he finally gives in.  So, Mike picks him up. 

We have a limo around the corner from tom’s house.  One minute after Tom is in Mike’s car, the limo drives around the corner to the front door.  Sandy leaps out of bed and into the limo in her pajamas with a suitcase full of clothes. 

The plan is for Sandy to get to the party before tom.  Meanwhile, Mike, takes the 405 fwy and never exceeds 40 mph.  Tom’s in the car going nuts –“why are driving so slow?”   “we have to get to the limo and to the game”.  Step on it.” 

Then Mike says, “I’m out of gas and pulls off the freeway.”  if Tom had looked, he would have seen the gauge was more than half full.  Mike pulls into a gas station with 2 open pumps and instead, pulls up behind a car that is filling up.  Tom, says, “what are you doing?”  that lane over there is wide open.

Thanks to the Mike’s little diversion,  Sandy arrives to the party before Tom.  She got dressed in the limo.  When she arrived at the house, my wife, Mary, did her makeup.  As Tom and Mike finally pull up to my house, they see the limo that tom thinks was sent from Dodger management to pick us up.  As Tom got to my front door, it opens and there’s Sandy along with 150 of Tom’s closest friends.  You can well imagine the look on his face.  He just left Sandy deathly ill in bed at home and there she is, looking like a million dollars.  It took him a while to figure what the heck was going on.

I checked the date of the party this week and saw that it was in 1985.  That would have been his 57th birthday.  I asked polly this week.  “why did we do such a big event for Tom?  It wasn’t birthday number 55 or number 60.  It was his 57th.  She said “it was probably because we just loved him so much.”

There are countless execs in our business who credit tom for giving them their start:   Ron Alexenburg, Jim Scully, Steve Popovich, Marshall Blonstein, Sheila Schlanda, Bruce Hinton, Joel Newman, Bud O’Shea and Seymour Stein.

I’ve lost count of all the letters, emails and phone calls received this week.  There’s no way to read all of the wonderful comments, but i will share a few:

“He was a very, very special man. Despite all that he did, which was quite substantial with his tremendous work ethic, he was always able to have that glint in his eye that only special people have.” 
Clive Davis

“In my early years of recording, I would never consider recording a song that I didn’t receive an aproval from Skip Miller and/or Tom Noonan.  They were my ears”                        
Lionel Richie

Through his remarkable life and career is truly legendary and spanned everything from the bunny hop to hip hop, and as he witnessed 78's become 45's then cd's.  Truth be told, Tom Noonan was not simply in the music business. He was in the people business. He loved people. It was so evident in that sparkle in his eye and the increased volume in his voice when spoke of a Columbia records reunion or seeing someone he hadn't heard from in a long time. It always seemed clear that life was an adventure and he was enjoying each and every chapter.       
Dave Sholin

I think we speak for the thousands of people who worked with us at a&m records.  Whenever we ran into Tommy, he was the most positive, enthusiastic, upbeat and supportive person.  Plus, he was the sweetest guy. 
Jerry Moss & Herb Alpert.

“Tom was a wonderful, fun-loving human being and will always be remembered as one of motown's true unsung heroes.” 
 Berry Gordy

And here is yet another great testimonial from one of Tom’s long-time friends …..

Tom Noonan was a great inspiration.  His belief in me and friendship really started the ball rolling and turned a childhood dream of being in the music business into a reality.  When I was just thirteen and arrived unannounced, at the reception area of Billboard magazine, it was Tom Noonan who opened the doors wide and allowed me to research the charts and news items in back issues of the Billboard.  That was in 1956 during rock and roll's infancy. 

I would take the subway from Brooklyn every day after school and come to the Billboard offices. Tom would set me up at a spare desk and often buy me a hamburger and coke.  The whole experience was total magic! 

But as my future in the music business began to climb, my grades in school were plummeting.  My parents went to Tom for advice.  My father, an orthodox Jew and Tom, a deeply religious Irish/French-Canadian Catholic, with more than 20 nuns in his immediate and extended family, got along famously.  Tom re assured my father that my future looked bright ahead. 

Tom was there for me and my partner Richard Gottehrer when we started Sire records in 1966. Although we didn't have much success, Tom never lost faith.
I feel very fortunate indeed to have had a good, dear friend like Tom for over 51 years.  A friendship I will treasure for the rest of my life. 

To paraphrase the 1950's hit song, “Speedo” by The Cadillacs, “they always called him Tommy, but his real name was Mr. Earl.”
 Seymour Stein

When someone is loved because their spirit is of love, their laughter is of love, their giving heart is of love, their humanity is of love, their honesty is of love and their sincerity is of love  —  they will be missed.  We only have peace in knowing that they are joining god with the other angels of love who are watching over us.  Tommy, please say hello to my mother.   Love you always,   
Stevie Wonder

In the early 80’s, my wife, Mary, who adored Tom, was in a terrible auto accident and was rushed to a hospital for an emergency operaton that lasted six hours.  It was nearly midnight and Tom was the first person sitting in the waiting room.  He said, “I'm not here right now to see Mary.  I’m here to support you.”

A half a year later mary had recuperated and my partner, Charlie Minor urged me to invite Tom and Sandy to Vegas to celebrate Mary’s recovery.  Two a&m artists were performing, Jeffrey Osborne and Billy Crystal.  And, thanks to them being on the label, we were lucky enough to have a wonderful, all expense paid, three day vacation. 

Two weeks after we returned home, Mary and I received a twenty page album with photos of all of us, playing cards, napkins, poker chips and dice  from every hotel we stopped at.  That album, including the thank you notes that Charlie and I received is out front today.  Be sure to take a look at it as you view all the great pictures and memorabilia from a truly marvelous life

Tom is survived by his sister, Eileen, daughters, Kerry & Kristie, Kerry’s husband, Steve, stepdaughter, Tracie and grandchildren, Tyler, Dahria, Brittany and Brent. 

Tom was married twice:  June & Sandy

I know I speak for everyone here today and all who couldn’t be here but are here in spirit.  Nonetheless, our hearts and prayers are with you.

I have to tell you speaking here today is very, very difficult for me.  Every time I’ve had to deliver a speech at a convention or in front of a staff at national meetings at a record label or sadly at eulogies for dear friends such as Lou Galliani, Larry Douglas or Charlie Minor, there has always been my pal, tom, there beside me to edit what i had written.

This is the first time in 20 years that i don’t have him to help me through it and give me a creative new idea.

Tom, I found a pretty good back up plan.
I reached out to two old friends of yours, Kevin Carter and Dave Sholin for some last minute edits and improvements.


And finally, to once again quote seymour stein ……
 (long pause)
His name was     earl    thomas     noonan. 
(long pause)
Tommy always hated the name earl, 
I never knew why. 
Now i know. 
(long pause)
Tom wasn't an earl, he was a prince

3 Responses to "Tom Noonan – In Memoriam"

  • Mary Flynn Flemke says:
  • George Mauro says:
  • Maureen Rooney says: