Mickey Kapp, Music Exec Who Gave Astronauts Songs for Space Travel, Dies at 88

Courtesy of Estate of Michael “Mickey” Kapp
Mickey Kapp

He worked at Capitol, Elektra and Warner Special Products; produced albums by Louis Armstrong, Jack Jones and Bill Dana; and was honored by NASA.

Mickey Kapp, a veteran music executive and producer who supplied songs for astronauts to enjoy during their Gemini and Apollo space missions, has died. He was 88.

Kapp died June 11 in his sleep at his home in Carmel, California, his family announced.

Kapp was a vice president at Capitol Records and Elektra Records, and he founded the Warner Communications division Warner Special Products, serving as its president for 25 years. One of his early successes, the four-record set Superstars of the '70s, sold more than 1 million copies. 

Earlier, he was president of Kapp Records, and he produced Louis Armstrong's 1964 rendition of "Hello, Dolly!" — that ended the Beatles' three-song run of No. 1 hits — and the original 1965 cast album of Man of La Mancha.

In 1961, Kapp produced a live comedy album recorded at the hungry i nightclub in San Francisco that featured Bill Dana playing his most famous character, José Jiménez. One bit, "The Astronaut," had Jiménez being chosen to be the first man sent into space. 

Kapp "had seven of the records sent to the Mercury astronauts and never heard back a thing," he recalled in a December interview with Vanity Fair. "Then it got back to me that Wally Schirra and Alan Shepard were quoting lines from the act!"

Kapp became friendly with all the American astronauts, and recognizing the need they had for levity from their grueling training and flight experiences, he used his music connections to program cassette recorders with playlists containing their favorite music.

Buzz Aldrin asked for songs including "Galveston" by Glen Campbell and "Angel of the Morning" by Bettye Swann, while Neil Armstrong requested Music Out of the Moon, a 1947 album by bandleader Les Baxter that featured the theremin, an electronic instrument that would become a staple of science-fiction movies. (Damien Chazelle used Music Out of the Moon in his 2018 Armstrong biopic First Man.)

“Weight was a great concern for NASA, because it’s expensive putting things in space,” he told Carmel Magazine in 2017. "But music doesn't weigh anything." 

In 1969, Kapp produced a six-record album and book, To the Moon: The Dramatic Story of Man's Boldest Venture Told in the Voices of Those Who Achieved It. His collection of 700-plus interviews and air-to-ground tapes are part of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, and he was a recipient of a Silver Snoopy Award, given by NASA in honor of contributions to space exploration.

Michael "Mickey" Kapp was born on Oct. 26, 1930 in Chicago. His grandfather had a record store in the city, and his uncle, Jack, and father, David, founded Decca Records' U.S. label in 1934.

Kapp attended Stanford University, and after serving four years in the U.S. Navy with the Armed Forces Radio Service — he helped invent the "seven-second delay" now widely used in radio and television, his family said — he joined the new Kapp Records in 1955. He went on to produce records for Les Brown and His Band of Renown and Jack Jones.

Survivors include his wife, Joyce; children Peter, Laurie, Thomas and Josh; brother Len; grandchildren Erik, Brian, Meghan, Kevin, Lauren, Sammy, Daniel and Trevor; and great-grandson Ben.

Donations in his name may be made to Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel.