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

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