George H. Russell, a veteran record promoter, guitarist and composer, died of a heart attack July 19 at his home in Laguna Beach, said Sandra Gillard, his companion. He was 89.
Russell was commissioned to write the music for “Encounter Near Venus,” a children’s story ballet presented by Ballet Pacifica in Orange County in 1975. He also composed music for two other ballets, “Birthstone Suite” and “Mah Jong.”
Russell recorded two solo guitar albums, which were combined in 1994 as “George Russell: His Guitar and Music” and included 20 original compositions.
Russell, whose sister was actress Gail Russell, was born in Chicago Feb. 7, 1919. He formed his own band at 16 called the Hyde Parkers, which appeared on Major Bowes’ “Original Amateur Hour” and toured with one of Bowes’ traveling companies.
He attended the Chicago Conservatory of Music before joining the Army in 1942 and studied guitar and musical composition at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music after the war.
In the late ‘40s, he helped form an instrumental and vocal trio called the Bachelors, which recorded for MGM Records and Palace Records before disbanding in the mid-'50s.
Russell, who played guitar in recording sessions with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, among others, launched his career as a record promoter in the late ‘50s.
He worked first for Mercury Records, then for Capitol and Columbia before becoming an independent record promoter.
Among the artists he promoted were the Platters, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Tony Bennett and Willie Nelson.
Until his death, Russell continued to promote Johnny Mathis through a professional relationship that began in 1961.