Timothy White, 1952–2002
White had edited the venerable music industry publication for the past 11 years, having been hired by publisher Howard Lander "to better serve the music industry as it began a journey through a decade of enormous change." A 1972 graduate of Fordham University, White honed his journalistic skills the old-fashioned way, working first as a copyboy for the Associated Press, then moving on to cover sports and entertainment. White was managing editor, then senior editor, of music magazine Crawdaddy from 1976–1978. He then joined Rolling Stone as an associate editor and rose through the ranks to become senior editor.
In the course of his work at both publications, as well as at Billboard, he interviewed hundreds of musicians, and became known as a champion of unknown artists. At Billboard, he instituted two features designed to raise public awareness of struggling performers: "Continental Drift," covering unsigned artists, and "Heatseekers," dedicated to acts that have never appeared in the top half of the Billboard 200.
"Timothy always saved room in [Billboard's] pages for new acts about whom he or staffers expressed enthusiasm, often giving them equal footing with industry giants," wrote Billboard LA staffer Melinda Newman in a tribute. Newman described White as "a fearless advocate of artists' rights. He often served as the industry's moral compass by tackling controversial music-business issues," referring in part to his a tireless campaign against violent, racist, and misogynist lyrics. Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, told the LA Times' Chuck Philips that White's death was "a real shock. It is so rare to find a guy in his position who loves music as much as he did. It didn't matter to him whether music was commercial or non-commercial. He loved it . . . It is very sad to see him go."
White originated the magazine's "Century Award," an annual artistic achievement prize considered Billboard's highest honor. Through the use of SoundScan's point-of-sale tracking system, he made statistically reliable sales figures an industry standard. His introduction of SoundScan data into Billboard's charts sent shock waves through the music industry, according to Philips, because they showed "that fans were often more fascinated by comparatively unknown rap, metal, alternative rock, and country acts than pompous superstars."
He also hosted and co-produced a nationally syndicated radio series, "Timothy White's Rock Stars/The Timothy White Sessions," and played drums in the Dry Heaves, a band that included Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner and journalists Charles M. Young, Jon Pareles, and Kurt Loder.
White was a prolific award-winning writer, having authored several biographies of musicians, including Bob Marley, James Taylor, and the Beach Boys; a collection of interviews and profiles; and a book of essays taken from his column "Music to My Ears." He filed his last column, to be published July 6, and had lunch with his best friend, screenwriter Mitch Glazer, with whom he had worked at Crawdaddy, shortly before he died. White had "an inquisitive mind, a deep passion for music, and unmatched writing skills," Howard Lander said, and "led his life with the firm belief that a person had to be willing to stand up and be counted."
White is survived by his wife, Judy Garlan—Friday, June 28 would have been their 15th wedding anniversary—and the couple's 10-year-old twins, Christopher and Alexander.