Ray Cooper obituary

Other lives: Leading music industry executive who became joint president of Virgin Records America

Ray Cooper, who has died aged 69 from complications associated with a rare neurological disorder, was one of the British music industry’s foremost executives of the past four decades.

He began his career in 1972 packing vinyl records at Transatlantic Records, an independent British company, and rose to become joint president of Virgin Records America. His special talent lay in marketing, and for various labels he helped to develop and maintain the careers of U2, the Spice Girls, the Rolling Stones, the Verve, Bob Marley, ELO, George Michael and David Bowie.

Ray and his twin sister Pam were born in Sheffield to Jack, a book-keeper, and his wife, Gladys (nee Davis), who taught ballroom dancing. In 1964, aged 16, he left High Storrs grammar school in the city to join a local engineering firm, but having developed a love of rock music he resigned at the age of 20 and set off to explore London’s music scene.

At Transatlantic, where we worked together in 1973, the owner, Nat Joseph, spotted Ray’s potential and soon got him working on the sales team, where he was quickly promoted to become head of sales. He moved on to work for two other record labels, Anchor and Jet, before becoming marketing director at Island Records, where he was an early champion of U2. There he forged a formidable relationship with the artists and repertoire manager Ashley Newton, and in 1988 they left to set up their own label, Circa.

Ashley found the artists and Ray marketed them, quickly achieving success with Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack. In 1992 Virgin owner Richard Branson bought Circa and appointed Ray and Ashley as joint managing directors of Virgin UK.

It was at Virgin that they first encountered the Spice Girls, whom they immediately agreed to sign. Typical of Ray’s original approach was the way he set about introducing them to the US market, taking them from office to office to perform their high-energy act to music promoters accompanied only by a beatbox.

In 1997 Virgin were named the most successful label at developing talent by Music Week magazine, with Ray and Ashley soon dispatched to take over the reins of Virgin America, enjoying further success with the Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz and Janet Jackson. After five years at the helm Ray left to found the Zama marketing consultancy, work that led him to become the music industry adviser to the virtual reality company Magic Leap.

Astute, energetic, kind and hilarious, Ray was loved by artists and staff alike, and was genuinely amazed at how far he had travelled from his start as a “long-haired hippy”.

When he was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia he decided to move back to Britain.

He is survived by his partner, Philippa Hubsch, and her son Dominic; by his daughter, Becky, from his marriage to Lesley Cooper, which ended in divorce; by his stepdaughter, Liana, from a long-term relationship with the singer Zeeteah Massiah; his son, Christopher Robin, from an earlier relationship, and by Pam.

Mike Watts

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tony Hall obituary
Other lives: Multi-talented veteran of the British pop music industry

Peter Robinson

04, Jul, 2019 @3:11 PM

Article image
Lloyd Price obituary
American singer best known for his 1950s hits Lawdy Miss Clawdy and Personality who set up his own music publishing business

Adam Sweeting

09, May, 2021 @7:00 PM

Article image
Mark Rye obituary
Other lives: Pop manager who helped to run the Harvest record label

Jon Webster

09, Apr, 2018 @2:34 PM

Article image
Joe Smith obituary
Record company executive who signed the Grateful Dead and Van Morrison, and enjoyed massive success with the Eagles

Adam Sweeting

13, Dec, 2019 @3:55 PM

Article image
Tino Valdi obituary
Other lives: Singer who was a member of Bruce Forsyth’s variety touring show in the 1950s

Eugene Nykolyszyn

19, Sep, 2019 @1:53 PM

Article image
Alvin Atkins obituary
Other lives: Bandleader on Morecambe Central Pier from 1948 until 1965

Guy Atkins

26, May, 2019 @3:59 PM

Article image
Christopher Eccleshall obituary
Other lives: Guitar-maker to the stars in the 1970s, including David Bowie and Rory Gallagher

Morwenna Del Mar

09, Oct, 2020 @10:13 AM

Article image
John Shaw obituary
Other lives: Folk musician who co-founded the electric folk-rock group Elecampane

Angela Shaw

19, Sep, 2021 @3:55 PM

Article image
Dave Laing obituary
Music writer, rock correspondent and academic who understood and communicated the cultural worth of pop

Tony Russell

14, Jan, 2019 @12:54 PM

Article image
Karen de Groot obituary
Other lives: Music journalist with a wide-ranging interest in media and the arts

Keith Docwra

02, Mar, 2018 @5:07 PM