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Bruce Swedien, legendary five-time Grammy Award-winning recording engineer, died at the age of 86 on November 16, 2020 in Gainsville, Florida after a long illness and complications from surgery. He is survived by his wife of sixty-seven years, Bea, and his daughters, Roberta Swedien and Julie
(Loren) Johnson. He was preceded in death by his son David.
The list of artists Swedien recorded reads like a Who's Who in music: Michael Jackson, Quincy
Jones, Oscar Peterson, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Dizzie Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Sarah
Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Barbra Streisand, The Chi-Lites, Eddie Harris, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Buddy
Miles, Missing Persons, Jackie Wilson, Jennifer Lopez, the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, George
Benson, Roberta Flack, Siedah Garrett, Patti Austin, James
Ingram, Lena Horne, Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, Tommy Dorsey, Dinah Shore, Diana Ross, Herbie Hancock, Edie Gorme, Sergio
Mendes, and many more. His movie credits include Night Shift, The Color
Purple, The Wiz, and Running Scared.
At the center of everything for Bruce, was the love of his life, Bea Swedien. They were constant companions and a true inspiration to anyone who has ever loved. At a time in the studio business when wives were not allowed to attend sessions, Bruce wouldn't conform. Bea, and often their children, attended many of his recording sessions. Bruce frequently touted how much he loved and appreciated Bea, and Bea's love for Bruce was complete and visible.
Growing up the son of two musicians in Minneapolis, Bruce spent his youth listening to live symphonic orchestras and choirs in fine concert halls, and developing his world-class sense of musical balance. When his parents bought him an audio recorder at the age of 10, he knew immediately that he wanted to devote his life to recording music. He recorded local choirs and many other groups throughout his youth and ended up starting his true journey into the professional audio world when he moved to Chicago
in 1957. He landed a position at Universal Studios and was mentored by the iconic engineer, Bill Putnam.
Already know for excellence and hard work, Swedien's career skyrocketed when he teamed up with iconic producer, Quincy
Jones, and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, to create Off the Wall, Thriller (the all-time best-selling album), and Bad. It was during this time that Bruce created a recording processed that he called "The Acusonic Recording Process," which used several 24-track tape machines, synchronized together as one recorder. This process opened up the potential for Swedien's sonic imagination to run wild. His mastery of technique combined with his innate musical sensibility and a virtually limitless sonic canvas, resulted in many of the best recordings of all time—recordings that even today set the standard for the way music should sound. Bruce also recorded Michael Jackson's subsequent albums, Dangerous, HIStory, and Invincible.
Because of its dynamic contrast and shear power, Swedien stated that the recording that he wanted people to remember him by when he died was "Earth Song
" by Michael Jackson. He also said frequently that his favorite recording project was Thriller. Quincy
Jones said in his thoughtful response to Bruce's death, "He was without question the absolute best engineer in the business, and for more than 70 years I wouldn't even think about going into a recording session unless I knew Bruce was behind the board…I have always said it's no accident that more than four decades later no matter where I go in the world, in every club, like clockwork at the witching hour you hear "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Wanna Be Starting Something," and "Thriller." That was the sonic genius of Bruce Swedien, and to this day I can hear artists trying to replicate him."
Bruce regularly declared, "It's about the music!" And, we've all been fortunate to experience the sonic excellence, creativity, and musical power that were Bruce Swedien's hallmark. Bruce, you are missed. Love you madly!