UMG Tried to Downplay Big Fire. Now, a Bigger List of Names

Cher, Dolly Parton, Styx, Rodney Dangerfield—all apparently lost master recordings in 2008 blaze
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 26, 2019 1:32 PM CDT
UMG Tried to Downplay Big Fire. Now, a Bigger List of Names
Cher performs at the Fiserv Forum on May 12, 2019, in Milwaukee.   (Photo by Rob Grabowski/Invision/AP)

What's been called "the biggest disaster in the history of the music business" now has an even longer list of victims. A New York Times story documented the destruction of master recordings in a 2008 fire that burned a Universal Music Group vault, with 100 or so artists apparently affected. Now Jody Rosen is reporting for the Times that more than 700 new names have been added to that list, and it's a jaw-dropping compilation including not only many more famous musicians, but also comedians like Rodney Dangerfield and Chris Rock, showbiz luminaries like Bob Hope and Groucho Marx, and even Martin Luther King Jr., recorded giving a keynote address in the '60s. Rosen got his hands on internal and legal documents, which revealed the additional names that appeared as part of UMG's "Project Phoenix," an initiative to find duplicates or replacement copies of files it believed destroyed.

The "extraordinary cross-section of genres and periods" includes names we all know: Peggy Lee, Dolly Parton, The Who, Peter Frampton, Cher, Styx, Squeeze, Bell Biv DeVoe, and Busta Rhymes, just to name a very few. Many of the artists only found out about the fire recently, with UMG often simply informing them the masters couldn't be found, per the Times. Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams, best known for hits like "Summer of '69" and "Heaven," said when he tried to get the master for his Reckless album in 2013, UMG couldn't produce it—but he didn't know about the fire until two weeks ago, when he read the Times article. Check out the updated list of names here. (There's now a lawsuit against UMG involving the estates of Tupac, Tom Petty, and more.)

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