Moishe “Morris” Levy
August 27, 1927 – May 21, 1990
Morris Levy’s checkered career in the music industry began in the late ’40s when he owned multiple New York City nightclubs, including the famous jazz venue, Birdland. Because of his venues, Levy learned that performers were required to pay royalties on the songs they performed to the publishing owners, so he started his own publishing company where he began making his fortune. In 1956, Levy launched Roulette Records which was, at one time or another, home to Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Tommy James & the Shondells, Buddy Knox, Jimmie Rodgers, and many more. In numerous cases, Levy appeared as co-writer and owned the publishing on the label’s early hits, even though he actually had no hand in the writing. It was Tommy James who scored the most hit records for the label but unfortunately, he saw litttle of the fortune until Levy sold the company to EMI Music during the late ’80s, and James’ catalog was issued on CD. Unlike other label heads, Levy also owned pressing plants, duplicating companies, and printing presses, leading law enforcement to believe he was also making pirated copies of popular releases, including many of his own, to make money along the black market as well. Levy also owned a record store chain and had dubious relationships with radio stations and other alleged underworld characters over the years. It has long been believed, though never officially proven that he carried out his illegal operations using all facets of his empire to make his fortune. Although more felonious actions have been attributed to him, Levy was tried and convicted of extortion in 1986, but passed away while free on appeal and before ever serving any time.