In Memoriam: Joel Whitburn (1939 – 2022)

Joel Carver Whitburn (November 29, 1939 – June 14, 2022) was an American author and music historian, responsible for setting up the Record Research Inc. series of books on record chart placings.

Whitburn was born in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. He started collecting records in his teens, first subscribed to Billboard in 1953, and when the Hot 100 was introduced in 1958 started recording the chart placings of records on index cards. He worked on record distribution for RCA in the mid 1960s, using his chart statistics to inform radio stations, before founding his own company, Record Research Inc., in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, in 1970. He put together a team of researchers to examine in detail all of Billboard’s music and video charts, and set up a licensing arrangement with Billboard.

Since then, Record Research has published reference books based on data from the various popular music charts and to date has published over 200 books, 50 of which are in the Record Research catalogue. His research extends from 1890 to the present and covers many genres. Featuring each recording’s peak position, date charted, weeks charted, label and information, and trivia on recordings and artists, Whitburn’s books are used extensively by the entertainment industry (especially radio DJs) and music fans worldwide. His flagship publication is Top Pop Singles, which covers the history of Billboard’s popular singles charts, primarily the Billboard Hot 100. The most recent edition, Top Pop Singles 1955–2018, was released in June 2019. Whitburn was also the author of the series Top 40 Hits, published by Billboard Books. The most recent edition, the ninth, was published in 2010. Whitburn’s Record Research is Billboard’s longest-running licensee, with a relationship extending 50 years.

Whitburn was an avid collector of phonograph records, with one of the world’s largest collections in his underground vault. His collection includes a copy of nearly every 78-rpm record, 45-rpm single, LP, and compact disc to reach the Billboard charts.

In collaboration with Rhino Records, Whitburn produced over 150 CD compilations, which are typically compiled according to their Billboard chart performance.

Whitburn died at the age of 82 on June 14, 2022.