Sam "The Record Man" Sniderman died in his sleep on Sunday. He was 92.
Sniderman was best known for his family business Sam the Record Man, including a 40,000-square-foot record store that stood proudly on Toronto's Yonge Street for four decades until 2007. That flagship store birthed 130 other retail locations across the country, making it (at one-time), Canada's largest music recording retailer.
"His giant red flashing neon sign above the store was as much a Toronto landmark as City Hall or Union Station and savvy music fans considered the store with its uneven, cracked tile floors, dusty shelves and informed staff an essential stop," NOW's Michael Hollett wrote of the iconic store.
Sniderman was a champion of the Canadian music scene — even nicknamed the "Godfather of Canadian Music" — and helped kick-start the careers of The Guess Who, Joni Mitchell, and Gordon Lightfoot, among others.
"Everybody sat there at some point," Sniderman once told the Toronto Star of the informal counselling sessions that went on in his office. "The Guess Who were there when they couldn't get a record made. Anne Murray sat there saying: "Sam, if this record doesn't work, I'm going back to Nova Scotia to be a gym teacher.'"
Sniderman offered advice, helped finance albums, and did what he could to help artists catch the breaks they needed.
Bands like the Barenaked Ladies and Moxy Fruvous sold their albums at Sam the Record Man before they were famous.
"It is unimaginable that the music scene would be the same in Canada without Sam Sniderman," Music industry expert Eric Alper told CTV's Canada AM on Monday. "He had a whole section for independent music, artists that weren't signed to a record label yet."
Sniderman was also integral in establishing the "CanCon" regulations that mandated that Canadian radio stations play a certain percentage of Canadian music. He's also credited with helping to found the Juno awards.
Along with his wife, he founded the Recordings Archive Library at the University of Toronto.
"Sam was the last of the great Canadian showmen that were able to establish themselves as household names purely through the force of their personality," Brian Robertson, a close family friend and Chairman Emeritus of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, told the Canadian Press.
"He was a mentor to literally hundreds of Canadian artists and musicians and the Yonge Street record store and Sam's presence there was the centre of the Canadian music industry's universe for over three decades."
Sniderman's empire had humble beginnings: he first sold records out of his brother Sid's radio store in 1937. In 1959, Sniderman opened the Yonge Street store that would make him famous.
Sniderman's achievements earned him the Order of Canada 1976. He was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. He was also a Governor General Award recipient and received honorary doctorates from Ryerson University in Toronto and the University of Prince Edward Island.
Sam the Record Man went into bankruptcy in 2001, but the store remained open until 2007. Its sign, two enormous LPs lit with 800 neon lights, was last lit during Nuit Blanche festivities in 2008.
Sniderman's family will hold a service in his memory on Tuesday. An October memorial service will be announced.
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