How One Icon Used His Passion for Music at His Sendoff

by M-Gillies

Steve Jobs' favorite artist was Bob Dylan. He had 15 of his albums on his own iPod.

“There was one classical musician (Steve) Jobs revered both as a person and as a performer: Yo-Yo Ma, the versatile virtuoso who is as sweet and profound as the tones he creates on his cello. They had met in 1981 when Jobs was at the Aspen Design Conference and Ma was at the Aspen Music Festival. Jobs tended to be deeply moved by artists who displayed purity, and he became a fan. He invited Ma to play at his wedding, but he was out of the country on tour. He came by Jobs’ house a few years later, sat in the living room, pulled out his 1733 Stradivarius cello, and played Bach. “This is what I would have played for your wedding,” he told them. Jobs teared up and told him, “You playing is the best argument I’ve heard for the existence of God, because I don’t really believe a human alone can do this.” On a subsequent visit Ma allowed Jobs’ daughter Erin to hold the cello while they sat around the kitchen. By that time Jobs had been struck by cancer, and he made Ma promise to play at his funeral.” - From the biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, 2011

If there’s one thing that needs to be said about American entrepreneur Steve Jobs, it isn’t just that he revolutionized technology but it’s the way he revolutionized the way we not only listen to, but purchase our music. Before Jobs unveiled the iPod in 2001, there had already been a number of MP3 players on the market. There was the Rio PMP300; The PJB-100; Creative NOMAD Jukebox; The Cowon Systems iAUDIO CW100; and many others between 1998-2001. However it was the elegance and ease of use that brought the iPod into the limelight of popularity.

With its signature rotating wheel, simple scrolling menus and clean design, based on the earliest prototype designs by British scientist Kane Kramer, the first iPod was the initial blueprint for what would become the future of portable digital-music devices. It wasn’t long until the iPod made its metamorphosis into the touch-screen finger-swiping we know of today.

“We did iTunes because we all love music,” Jobs told Fortune back in March 2008. “We made what we thought was the best jukebox in iTunes. Then we all wanted to carry our whole music libraries around with us. The team worked really hard and the reason that they worked so hard is because we all wanted one.”

But it was Jobs’ next brainstorm that changed the course of history for the music industry forever. With an industry besieged with the woes of illegal downloading, pirating and peer-to-peer file sharing, which ultimately plummeted the sales of purchasable albums, the launch of the iTunes Store in 2003, which took the traditional music-industry model and turned it around for a new generation of music distribution became a blessing in disguise; and as of February 2010, has sold 10 billion songs.

As Jobs told the Associated Press in September 20, 2005, “We’re trying to compete with piracy. We’re trying to pull people away from piracy and say, ‘You can buy these songs legally for a fair price.’ If the price goes up, people will go back to piracy, then everybody loses. The labels make more money from selling tracks on iTunes than when they sell a CD. There are no marketing costs for them. If they want to raise the prices, it just means they’re getting a little greedy.”

Born in ’55, raised through the ’60s, Jobs quickly found a passion in music. He may not have played an instrument or sang a note professionally, but he saw something in music – particularly the sounds of the ’60s. From Bob Dylan to the Beatles, Cat Stevens to The Grateful Dead, Glenn Gould to The Rolling Stones, Miles Davis to The Who, Peter, Paul and Mary to John Lennon.

“We were very lucky,” Jobs said to Rolling Stone Magazine, December 2003. “We grew up in a generation where music was an incredibly intimate part of that generation. More intimate than it had been, and maybe more intimate than it is today, because today there are a lot of other alternatives. We didn’t have video games to play. We didn’t have personal computers. There’s so many other things competing for kids’ time now. But, nonetheless, music is really being reinvented in this digital age, and that is bringing it back into peoples’ lives. It’s a wonderful thing. And in our own small way, that’s how we’re going to make the world a better place.”

Because of this kind of appreciation toward music, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jobs wanted a funeral sendoff that highlighted his love for music. In fact, after publicly sharing the news of his cancer diagnosis, Jobs had Yo-Yo Ma visit him at his family home in which he proposed a request the Grammy winning cellist.

“This last year we had three visits,” Yo-Yo Ma wrote. “And in the spring, Steve asked me to play at his funeral. I said I would, if he would speak at mine… Needless to say, Steve got his way.”

After his October 5, 2011, death, an invitation-only memorial was held at the Stanford University on October 16 – this would be the second time the university would take the helm of playing host to Steve Jobs, and was attended by many notable individuals, from politicians and peers to actors and musicians.

It was during this service that Yo-Yo Ma performed Prelude to Bach’s Solo Cello Suite No 1 in G Major; Joan Baez performed Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; and U2 frontman, Bono who performed an acoustic rendition of Bob Dylans’ Every Grain of Sand.

Three days later, a private memorial service for Apple employees was held on the Apple Campus in Cupertino. It was here where Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced board director at Apple, Inc., Bill Campbell, senior vice-president of industrial design at Apple, Inc., Jony Ive, and former Vice-President, Al Gore.

But it was the musical guests who were the primary highlights of this memorial service. With Nora Jones performing The Nearness of You, Painter Song and Dylans’ Forever Young; and Coldplay performing Yellow, Viva La Vida, Fix You and Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall.

While Jobs may have passed, his legacy will continue to live on. As he said in The Wall Street Journal in May of 1993, “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night, saying we’ve done something wonderful – that’s what matters to me.”

View the Steve Jobs Apple Campus Memorial

The Music of Apple’s Silhouette Series:

Black Eyed Peas Hey Mama (The ad that started it all for the iPod 3G, 2004)

U2 Vertigo (Special-Edition iPod 2004)

The Caesars Jerk It Out (iPod Shuffle 2005)

Daft Punk Technologic (iPod 2005)

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