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Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Art Rupe Lived a Good Long Life

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Arthur N. Rupe—Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame record producer, oil and gas entrepreneur, and philanthropist—passed away Friday, April 15, at his home in Santa Barbara, California. He was 104.

Born Arthur N. Goldberg on September 5, 1917, to a Jewish working-class family in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, Art Rupe grew up in nearby McKeesport in the Pittsburgh metro area. He attended college at Virginia Tech and Miami University of Ohio, and in 1939 set off for Los Angeles to make his way in the world. Years later, he would complete his university education at UCLA.

It was upon arrival in California that he changed his surname to “Rupe”; he had learned from his paternal grandfather that this was in fact the family name, “Goldberg” having been adopted at Ellis Island.

During the Second World War, Rupe worked on an engineering crew testing Liberty ships on L.A.’s Terminal Island. As the war was winding down, realizing he would soon be unemployed, he resolved to go into business as a record producer.

Growing up in an ethnically and racially diverse neighborhood in McKeesport, Rupe had developed a keen interest in Rhythm ‘n’ Blues and Gospel music. He therefore chose to specialize in what was then called “race records,” music made by and for African-Americans.

In late 1944, with Ben Siegert, Rupe formed Juke Box Records. His first record “Boogie #1,” produced on a low budget with only three musicians, sold 70,000 copies, a regional hit at the time.

In September 1946 Rupe set out on his own, launching a new label, Specialty Records. Over the next fifteen years, Specialty became one of the most prominent independent recording companies, with worldwide distribution. Rupe’s work at Specialty played a key role in the emergence of the new musical genre of rock ‘n ‘ roll. The label featured such artists as Roy Milton, Percy Mayfield, Joe and Jimmy Liggins, Lloyd Price, Little Richard, and Sam Cooke. In addition to his election to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Art Rupe was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Beginning in the early 1950s, Rupe also began investing in oil and gas production, eventually starting his own oil company. Initially operations were centered in Texas, but later the company shifted its focus to drilling in West Virginia and then Ohio. With his Ohio-based partners he remained active in the industry until the end.

Rupe devoted the last decades of his long life to his philanthropic foundation in Santa Barbara. The Arthur N. Rupe Foundation pursues “creative solutions to societal issues,” primarily by supporting public policy research, education, and advocacy. It has historically sponsored public debates on controversial issues both in scholastic and public settings. Significant resources are also devoted to supporting family caregivers for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Arthur N. Rupe is survived by his daughter Beverly Rupe Schwarz; her husband Leo Schwarz; his granddaughter, Madeline Kahan; and her husband Kyle Kahan.

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