Like so many of us, Charles A. Koppelman knows exactly where he was when he first heard Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby.”
He was sitting in the backyard of his house in Roslyn Harbor in 1990 when he realized he had to stop, collaborate and listen. “Instantly, I knew that was an artist I wanted to sign and that it was a song that was going to be enormous,” says Koppelman, who immediately signed Ice to his major label SBK Entertainment, and soon Ice’s debut “To the Extreme” began its 16-week reign at No. 1 on the albums chart. “To me, it all starts with the song. . . . If you go to a restaurant and they don’t have great ingredients, no matter how good the chef is, you’re not going to have a great experience. The song is a great ingredient.”
And for Koppelman, who will be inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on Thursday, the songs have always served him well. The music and branding executive’s legendary career began in 1960 with his own song, “Yogi” by The Ivy Three — a Top 10 novelty hit about the cartoon bear sung by Koppelman and friends from Adelphi University.
But it wasn’t until Koppelman began connecting other artists with songs that he really found his calling. “When I hear a song, I know when that song is great,” said Koppelman, who formed The Entertainment Company in 1975 to bring together songwriters and singers. “If it’s almost great, I know how to work with that writer to make it great. Then it’s a question of what artist would make the song even better or if that writer is the artist that would make that work.”
Those connections eventually led him to work with everyone from Dolly Parton to Diana Ross, with many of them visiting his home on Long Island to unwind and create. “For many years, people thought Barbra Streisand owned my house because they had seen her there on so many different occasions,” joked Koppelman, who headed CBS Records, Columbia Records, EMI Records, as well as SBK Records, in his career.
In 1997, Koppelman left the music business with plans to retire. But that didn’t last. Both shoe magnate Steve Madden and home entertaining mogul Martha Stewart turned to him to temporarily run their companies as they served prison terms. And it helped Koppelman recognize that his talent for helping artists with branding deals excited him, leading to the creation of C.A.K. Entertainment, which handled corporate deals for Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Nicki Minaj and others.
Currently, Koppelman is advising the estate of Prince on how to best manage the late artist’s holdings. “It’s incredibly busy,” he said, laughing when asked if the 76-year-old would ever return to his postponed retirement. “I just don’t think that’s in the cards.”
WHAT Long Island Music Hall of Fame Induction Gala
WHEN | WHERE 8:30 p.m. Thursday, The Space at Westbury, 250 Post Ave., Westbury
INFO $95-$250; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com