Originator of Artistic Album Covers, Dies at 94
By STEVEN HELLER
Published: July 19, 2011
Alex Steinweiss, an art director and graphic designer who brought custom artwork to record album covers and invented the first packaging for long-playing records, died on Sunday in Sarasota, Fla. He was 94.
His death was confirmed by his son, Leslie.
The record cover was a blank slate in 1939, when Mr. Steinweiss was hired to design advertisements for Columbia Records. Most albums were unadorned, and on those occasions when art was used, it was not original. (Albums then were booklike packages containing multiple 78 r.p.m. discs.)
“The way records were sold was ridiculous,” Mr. Steinweiss said in a 1990 interview. “The covers were brown, tan or green paper. They were not attractive, and lacked sales appeal.” Despite concern about the added costs, he was given the approval to come up with original cover designs.
Alex Steinweiss at his studio in 1947
William P. Gottlieb, via Taschen Books
His first cover, for a collection of Rodgers and Hart songs performed by an orchestra, showed a high-contrast photo of a theater marquee with the title in lights. The new packaging concept was a success: Newsweek reported that sales of Bruno Walter’s recording of Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony increased ninefold when the album cover was illustrated.
The first album cover by Mr. Steinweiss
“It was such a simple idea, really, that an image would become attached to a piece of music,” said Paula Scher, who designed record covers for Columbia in the 1970s and is now a partner in the design company Pentagram. “When you look at your music collection today on your iPod, you are looking at Alex Steinweiss’s big idea.” Continue reading