Who Is Mark Ronson?

Mark Ronson

Some may find it hard to believe someone might ask the question above. Trust me, there are a few of my readers who will quietly utter those exact words. I must tell you that I hear the question about the identity of a featured artist often, even when an extremely popular artist is featured. I understand that I choose to highlight new and/or young artists a great deal, and they have not produced the volume of material or had the opportunity to create the hit song or album. However, I am intrigued by the lack of recognition of someone like Mark Ronson. Why? Because he has the biggest hit song of the past year – “Uptown Funk”. Of course many can easily name the song upon hearing a few measures of music, but most might say, that’s Bruno Mars’ song! Yes, the song features Bruno Mars, however it can be found on Mark Ronson’s current album Uptown Special.

One of the reasons I decided to start publishing Weekly Music Commentary was to introduce music and musicians to an audience that most likely would not have knowledge of the featured artist. I attempt to help everyone, whether they are familiar with the featured musician or not, to look at reasons why their music is popular, and how they write and produce songs. Therefore, I will now introduce you to one of the most talented musicians in the industry, even if you have knowledge of him and his music, Mr. Mark Ronson.

Mark Daniel Ronson was born September 4, 1975 at the Wellington Hospital, St John’s Wood in London England, the son of Anne (Dexter) and Laurence Ronson, a real-estate mogul and music manager. After his parents divorced, his mother married Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones. Ronson has twin sisters who are two years younger than he is, Charlotte Ronson, a fashion designer, and Samantha Ronson, a singer and DJ. Ronson also has five younger half-siblings. At the age of eight Ronson, along with his mother, step-father and twin sisters, moved to New York City.  He attended high school at the private Collegiate School in Manhattan before attending Vassar College and then New York University. While attending New York University, Ronson became a regular at downtown hip hop spots and made his name as a DJ on the New York club scene. Influenced by funk, the hip hop scene of New York and the more rock influence of the UK he attracted a wider audience. He was soon a popular and sought after DJ in New York City, frequently booked for high-profile events and private parties.

In 2001, the big career shift came for Ronson when Nikka Costa’s manager heard one of his sets and introduced the musicians. Ronson produced Costa’s song “Everybody Got Their Something”, and Ronson soon signed a record contract with Elektra Records.

I feel that one reason that some may not know Mark Ronson outside the music industry is like many before him, his start was on the other side of the microphone, behind the control board. Today, record producers are gaining notoriety, partly because they are increasingly stepping in front of the microphone; like Pharrell Williams and Ne-Yo. Also, music fans are paying attention to producers because they realize those behind the scenes can be difference-makers for hit songs.

In 2003, Mark Ronson released his début album Here Comes the Fuzz that received good reviews, but poor first sales numbers. Two weeks after releasing Here Comes the Fuzz, Elektra Records dropped him. Ronson went on to produce some of the most notable records in modern times.

Two very well-known artists and records that Ronson produced after his début album were Amy Winehouse Back to Black, and Adele 19. There is a very long list of other noteworthy records and artists that Ronson produced throughout his career. In December 2007 Ronson received his first Grammy Award nomination, for ‘Producer of the Year, Non Classical’. Ronson’s work with Amy Winehouse also received substantial accolades, gaining 6 nominations. Winehouse’s “Back to Black” album, mostly produced by Ronson, was nominated for ‘Album of the Year’ and ‘Best Pop Vocal Album’. Her song “Rehab” received nods for ‘Best Female Pop Vocal Performance’, ‘Song of the Year’ and ‘Record of the Year’. Ronson would go on to win three Grammys: ‘Producer of the Year’ as well as ‘Best Pop Vocal Album’ and ‘Record of the Year’ (the latter two of which he shared with Amy Winehouse) in early February 2008.

Mark Ronson was not limited to production work for other artists. He was able to release his second album Version, which was well received by critics particularly in the UK and US. In May 2007 it was awarded the title Album of the Month by the British dance music magazine, Mixmag. His third album, Record Collection was released on September 27, 2010. This is the first Ronson albums on which he features as a singer.

Now we have Ronson’s fourth and current album Uptown Special. Just notice what was said on Ronson’s bio about this very special record. “Uptown Special has all of the flavor of a night with Mark rocking the ones and twos with funk, soul, and psychedelic pop in a style that echoes classic productions by Quincy Jones and Steely Dan, and funneled through its creators sophisticated understanding of arrangement and melody”. Mark feels like Uptown Special is closest in spirit to his 2003 début, Here Comes the Fuzz, which came directly out his DJ experience. “The difference,” Mark says “is I was reaching for things musically I wasn’t quite ready to execute. With all the experience I’ve gained over the years I had the maturity and knowledge to really pull this together.”

Hopefully, if this is your first introduction to Mark Ronson, you will further explore his music and listen to Uptown Special. I think after this fine record rotates on radio stations worldwide, very few people will ask, “Who is Mark Ronson?”

* photo by Alexei Hay

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