Al Schmitt, Music Engineer and 20-Time Grammy Winner, Dies at 91

Brian Welk

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Al Schmitt, a legendary engineer and producer in the music industry who won 20 Grammys throughout his career, has died. He was 91.

Al Schmitt throughout his career has worked with artists such as Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones, Steel Dan, Natalie Cole, Toto and many more. He won a Grammy for the masterful mixing on Steely Dan’s landmark 1977 album “Aja”, Ray Charles’ “Genius Loves Company” and was behind the sound board for Toto’s mega-hit “Africa.”

Recording Academy chair and interim president Harvey Mason Jr. commented on Schmitt’s passing, though no official cause of death was given.

“Al Schmitt was a true legend. His incredible work in the studio brought us iconic pieces of work from many artists, including Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, and Diana Krall, leaving an indelible mark on the recording industry,” Mason Jr. said. “We are forever grateful for his contributions as a founding member of the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing and to the art and craft of recorded music. We send our love and condolences to his family, friends and collaborators.”

Most recently, Schmitt won two Grammys in 2012 and 2013 in working with Paul McCartney on his album “Kisses on the Bottom” and its follow-up live album “Live Kisses.” He also collaborated with Willie Nelson on “That’s Life” from this past February.

Albert Harry Schmitt was born in New York City and raised in Brooklyn, where he worked in his uncle’s recording studio Harry Smith Recording, even befriending guitar maker Les Paul along the way. After a stint in the Navy, Schmitt took a job at Apex Records and found himself as the only one in the studio with Duke Ellington and his orchestra and unable to get his boss on the phone, though he managed to successfully help the jazz legend record several songs in a matter of hours.

In the ’60s, he went to work for RCA and was an engineer on albums by Sam Cooke, Henry Mancini and more and also found himself working on motion picture scoring, working on films such as Elvis Presley’s “G.I. Blues” and later in his career as a music coordinator on 1984’s “Dune.” And he also engineered the “Hatari!” soundtrack, which featured the song “Moon River” and won two Grammys in 1961.

In all, Schmitt was nominated for 36 Grammys, and his credits have appeared on more than 150 records that have gone gold or platinum. He also was a successful producer, serving as the record producer on four albums from Jefferson Airplane, four with Al Jarreau, Neil Young’s “On the Beach” and Jackson Browne’s “Late for the Sky.”

He was given the Grammys Trustees Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014, and was inducted into the TEC Awards Hall of Fame for audio professionals in 1997.

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