Morris “Mo” Austin, who graduated from UCLA with an economics degree before reshaping American popular music and later becoming a major supporter of his alma mater, died July 31 from natural causes. He was 95.
The legendary music executive, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, spent a quarter-century as the chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Records, where he worked with many of the 20th century’s most influential artists, including Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Madonna, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Prince and R.E.M.
Throughout and following his long career in the music industry, during which he distinguished himself as uniquely friendly and receptive to artists’ visions, Austin maintained a deep connection to UCLA. He and his late wife, Evelyn, contributed frequently and generously to the arts, medicine, education and intercollegiate athletics — with a particular focus on student-athletes.
On campus, Austin’s legacy includes the Evelyn and Mo Austin Music Center, designed to provide students with access to the latest advances in music technology, and the Mo Austin Basketball Center, home of the men’s and women’s Bruin basketball programs. In addition, he served on the board of visitors for the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture and the dean’s board of advisors for the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.
“Mo was surely one of the music industry’s most beloved figures — a man known for his deep respect for the artistic process and his willingness to take risks — but he was also a deep believer in the transformative power of UCLA,” Chancellor Gene Block said. . He and Evelyn helped our university build one of the top music programs in the country, and their support extended to athletics, medicine and other areas. He was a wonderful friend and a true Bruin.”
In honor of his many professional achievements, his philanthropy and his service to the university, Austin, who graduated in 1951, was named UCLA’s 2019 Edward A. Dickson Alumnus of the Year.
The Evelyn and Mo Austin Music Center, which opened in 2014, provides students and faculty with the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art music industry tools and features a high-tech recording studio, spaces for rehearsal and teaching, a café and social space for students, and a music production center.
“With one of the top music programs in the country, UCLA is preparing the artistic leaders of the future,” Austin said in making a $10 million gift to fund the construction of the center. “I am proud to show my continued support with the creation of a center that will prepare students for careers not only in performance and academia but also in music journalism, the entertainment business, and the public and nonprofit sectors. In today’s competitive global environment, students need to be well-rounded professionals.
He also created the Austin Endowment Fund for the Performing Arts to support efforts, including scholarships and fellowships, to attract and retain the highest-caliber performing arts students from around the world, and was a supporter of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music’s Music Partnership Program, which brings UCLA music students into K-12 public schools and community centers to provide children and youth with music instruction and education.
In 2015, Austin’s $10 million gift led the way for the construction of the 35,000-square-foot Mo Austin Basketball Center adjacent to Pauley Pavilion, which opened in 2017 as the dedicated practice facility and operational home for the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
“Everybody seems to be thanking me, and as a matter of fact, it’s probably me who should be thanking you and UCLA for everything that it’s done for me,” said Austin at the center’s dedication ceremony. “It really affected my life and helped form me as a person, and anything I can do to give back, I will certainly do.”
Over the years, Mo and Evelyn, who died in 2005, were passionate supporters of UCLA. In 1998, they served as co-chairs of the fundraising gala “Royce Hall Encore — Celebrate the Return” after major renovations to the famous hall, which was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. They were also founders of the UCLA Film & Television Archive council, and they supported the UCLA Lab School and the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The Austins’ philanthropy extended beyond UCLA and affected the lives of many others in Los Angeles and beyond.
Austin is survived by his son Michael, who serves on the dean’s board of advisors for the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.