Volume 76, Number 27 | November 22 - 28, 2006

Stars remember Karin Berg, top music talent scout

By Jefferson Siegel

Last week, friends, family and notable musicians gathered in St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery to remember Karin Berg. Berg was beloved by many in the music industry for her wit, warmth and a no-nonsense attitude.

Berg, who died Oct. 25 at age 70, was an A&R (artists-and-repertoire) executive and talent scout for Elektra and Warner Bros. records. Berg was noted for recognizing and nurturing many new wave musicians, including Television, R.E.M, Dire Straits and the B-52’s. She developed an interest in the music business in the 1960s while writing reviews for Changes and Rolling Stone magazines.

More than 100 people sat quietly in the church sanctuary, many choking back tears, as friends told poignant stories and musicians performed in her honor. Composer Philip Glass set the evening’s somber tone at the outset, playing his composition “Opening” on the piano.

Patti Smith met Berg in 1970 when Berg was “struggling, like all of us, to develop our cultural voice,” Smith said. “She’s always been supportive of people, she’s always championed new artists, especially ones that were more poetic, more political. And, she always made friends for life with the people that she signed.”

Smith paused before the microphone, looked up and said, “Thanks, Karin, for everything,” before singing “Wing.”

Actor Robert Guillaume, who met Berg shortly after she moved to New York in the 1950s, stood quietly for several seconds before whispering into the microphone, “It was marvelous.” Recalling Berg’s political activism, he told a story of a day that Berg appeared on the TV news picketing with striking hotel workers. This frail woman, he marveled, told a sizeable policeman with a billy club to “go away.” “Once you knew her,” Guillaume said, “her presence remained with you.”

Berg signed Marshall Crenshaw to Warner Bros. Records in the early 1980s.

“I always felt she was emotionally invested in the records she worked on,” Crenshaw said. “I feel like there’s one less wise person in the world now,” he added before playing the haunting instrumental “Angel on My Shoulder.”

Laurie Anderson met Berg in a smoky club in 1978.

“She never tried to make it look better than it actually was,” Anderson said. “I appreciate anyone who makes an effort to see the world as it is, not the way that it should be.” Anderson performed “The Language of the Future” and concluded with a short poem, “The Weight of the World Is Love.”

Born in St. Louis, Berg was a longtime resident of Horatio St.

Speaking the next day, Berg’s friend Nancy Jeffries said, “She loved the Village. She just loved her life Downtown.”

Berg leaves no survivors. She had been suffering from myositis, an inflammatory muscle disease, for several years. The Karin Berg Fund has been established at The Hospital for Special Surgery to benefit the Myositis Support Group.

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