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Esmond Edwards Dies at 79

Esmond Herbert Edwards started as a clerk at Prestige Records in 1957. In only five years, he became the head of the Chess Records jazz label in Chicago before moving on to New York to work for MGM’s Verve Records. He was one of the first African-American executives in the music industry, an album producer and an accomplished photographer.

Edwards died Jan. 20, ending a long battle with cancer at age 79 in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he made his home for the past decade.

Born in Nassau, Bahamas on Oct. 29, 1927, Edwards was separated from his parents, Lucille and Moses Edwards, when they immigrated to Harlem, leaving him and his two siblings with their grandmother in Kingston, Jamaica. Edwards and his sister were reunited with their parents in New York after Edwards’ older brother Noel died.

After graduating from the City College of New York, Edwards photographed the jazz scenes on the city streets. He got his break when he followed jazz drummer Arthur Taylor into a Prestige recording session to take photos. Prestige owner Bob Weinstock was impressed by Edwards’ photography and gave him a job at the label.

Many jazz and blues record jackets and anthologies have donned work by Edwards, most often capturing the artists in a personal, natural light. He contributed to New York Times Magazine as a freelance photographer-his photographs have been published in various books and magazines and featured in galleries in and outside of the United States.

In 1970, Edwards returned to Chess Records as the Vice President of A&R, culling several gold and platinum records from some of the greats in jazz and blues: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Etta James, B.B King and countless others.

Edwards is survived by his wife, Yvonne Ferguson; son, Evan; stepdaughter, Nadra Panto; sister, Lois Augustus; and two nieces, Sylvia and Susan.

Originally Published