February 25, 2020

Gary Stewart, Music Industry Executive, 62

If you were friends, or even just a passing acquaintance of Gary Stewart — the longtime music industry executive who died April 11 at age 62 — it was not unusual to find a package laden with CDs or DVD box sets of television shows on your doorstep a day or so after seeing him. He was always filled with enthusiasm for something new he’d discovered — a band, a TV show or a book — and if he found out you didn’t know about it (or just didn’t share his enthusiasm), he’d compile a package and get it to you. The trunk of his car was legendary for being filled with copies of whatever he was excited about, just so he could hand them out. 

Stewart was a man dedicated to turning people on to new things and making the world a better place. It was the story of his career, starting in the mid-1970s, when he graduated from customer to employee at the famed Rhino Records store in Los Angeles, to compiling playlists for Apple Music’s iTunes. 

A Los Angeles native, Stewart was initially a 17-year-old customer at Rhino, but he spent so much time in the store that he was eventually given a job. When Rhino expanded into a record label, he was one of the first hires. Starting out as a salesman, he rose to vice president of A&R (artists and repertoire) and was responsible for producing nearly 700 collections, including some of the label’s most successful releases, including  “Have A Nice Day!,” a compilation of ’70s pop, “We’re Desperate: The L.A. Scene (1976-79),” the history of Southern California punk, and the definitive reissues of Elvis Costello’s catalog. 

Whatever the subject, Stewart brought a knowing eye and ear to the project. The compilations mixed hits and lesser-known “deep cuts” with unreleased songs and demos, all lovingly restored and annotated, and packaged with smartly designed booklets containing rare photos and expert essays. They were the work of a highly knowledgeable fan, offering a full picture of an act or an era, making a case for its place in history, but never presented with a snobbish or hipster attitude.

By the early 2000s, as Rhino — by now a division of Warner Music — was moving from the exhaustive, deluxe boxes he produced to greatest hits collections, he left his longtime home for Apple Music, where he was first chief music officer and later head of catalog curation for iTunes. He was also the co-founder of the Trunkworthy website, named after the trunk of his car.  

In addition to music, Stewart was dedicated to volunteering and public service. One of his innovations at Rhino was a program where any employee who put in 18 hours of volunteer work could take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off, with pay. He was an active donor, fundraiser and advocate, serving on the boards of Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, the Community Coalition, the Liberty Hill Foundation and the Social Venture Network. 

Stewart is survived by his brother, Mark. A memorial is scheduled for May 25.