Who is Ethel?

Alan Dell, Ethel-Gabriel and Don Wardell, Producers for The Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra Sessions -1983 Grammy Awards
Don Wardell, Ethel-Gabriel and Alan Dell, Producers for The Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra Sessions -1983 Grammy Awards. Photo from Ethel Gabriel’s personal collection

With an awe-inspiring four decade career at RCA Victor, Ethel Gabriel was the first female record producer for popular music. She produced over 2,500 music albums and was the first female record producer to receive an RIAA Gold Record in 1959. In 1983, Gabriel won a Grammy Award in the Best Historical Album category for The Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra Sessions.

As an record producer in RCA’s A&R department, Gabriel worked with artists such as Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins and Roger Whitaker. She worked on reissued albums of nearly every artist on the RCA roster. Gabriel produced the first RCA album using “Stereo Action,” the first digitally remastered album, and oversaw RCA’s first disco album.

Today, Ethel is 97 years old and living in a quiet memory care facility in Rochester, NY.


ETHEL GABRIEL’S CAREER

Photo of Ethel Gabriel from personal collection
  • 1934-1940 Had her own dance band (“En and Her Royal Men”) where she played trombone
  • 1939-1943 Temple University, studied music and graduated 1943
  • 1939 Trombonist with the Philadelphia Women’s Symphony Orchestra
  • 1940 Started working in the record factory at RCA (to pay for tuition & living expenses)
  • 1945-1948 Columbia University (took music classes while working for RCA)
  • Year unknown (1940s) Worked as secretary to Herman Diaz, Jr (manager of RCA’s A&R Dept), where she “practically lived at the sound studios”. She produced her first session when Diaz called out sick and asked her to do it
    1950  Became RCA A&R Producer based in New York
  • 1955 Produced “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” by Perez Prado , which became a worldwide hit and brought the mambo craze to the US
    1955 Was with Stephen Sholes (head of R&B and country/western A&R) when they first heard Elvis and went to ask to sign him. As Ethel tells it, she helped convince Elvis’s mom, Gladys, that it was a good deal.
  • 1959 Gabriel starts producing for RCA Camden, which she grew from a struggling label to a multi-million dollar label. She spent 20 years leading RCA Camden Records producing albums in all categories (including sacred, country, contemporary, children’s, R&B)
  • 1961 – Produces Ray Martin and his Orchestra Dynamica, the first release using RCA’s “Stereo Action”
  • 1976 – Executive producer of Caruso, A Legendary Performer, the first digitally-remastered album.
  • 1980-1982 Vice-President of Pop Contemporary A&R