Bess Berman

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Bess Berman (July 14, 1902–August 8, 1968) was an American record label executive. With her husband Isaac "Ike" Berman, Hy Siegel and Sam Schneider, she set up Apollo Records, an independent label notable for its promotion of gospel and R&B musicians, in New York City in 1944.

She was born Bessie Merenstein in New York, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Germany, and married vending machine salesman Ike Berman ( Behrman, May 16, 1897–February 5, 1956) around 1926.[1][2][3][4] They set up Apollo Records in 1944, and she became the driving force behind its development, particularly in recruiting star performers including Mahalia Jackson, Champion Jack Dupree, The "5" Royales, Wynonie Harris, The Larks, and Solomon Burke.[5][6]

She took sole control of the business in 1948, while her husband ran an associated record pressing plant. According to songwriter Doc Pomus, she was "very tough... a very strong, aggressive woman."[7] When she gave up the business after becoming ill in 1954, Cash Box described her as "the only woman ever able to break through with outstanding success in the male-dominated recording industry."[7]

She died in 1968,[8] although some sources give a date in 1997.[7] Her nephew is the record producer and executive Lewis Merenstein.


  1. ^ 1920 US Census; Census Place: Manhattan Assembly District 2, New York, New York; Roll: T625_1186; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 141; Image: 863.
  2. ^ 1930 United States Federal Census, Census Place: Clarkstown, Rockland, New York; Roll: 1640; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 0004; Image: 78.0; FHL microfilm: 2341374
  3. ^ Billboard, October 21, 1950, p.19
  4. ^ "Last Rites For Ike Berman", Billboard, 18 February 1956, p.19
  5. ^ J. C. Marion, Apollo Records : The Vocal Groups. Retrieved 23 May 2014
  6. ^ David Edwards and Mike Callahan, Apollo Records Story. Retrieved 23 May 2014
  7. ^ a b c John Broven, Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers, University of Illinois Press, 2009, pp.53-55
  8. ^ U.S. Social Security Death Index, SSN:109-16-7348, Retrieved 23 May 2014
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