Robert Bialek, 84; Music Producer, Record Shop Owner

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Robert Bialek, 84, a native Washingtonian who started a local discount record and bookstore chain and was a Grammy Award-winning album producer, died May 30 at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington after a heart attack.

In 1952, Mr. Bialek and his wife opened Discount Record Shop near Dupont Circle, which evolved into the Discount Book and Record Shop franchise and was one of the area's first book and music discounters. He sold the business in the early 1980s.

For much of his career, Mr. Bialek was also a music producer and presenter. With the support of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, he produced an album featuring 33 of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's speeches. The release, "FDR Speaks," won the 1960 Grammy Award for best performance in documentary or spoken word other than comedy.

As a concert impresario, Mr. Bialek presented a range of performers, including folksinger Tom Glazer, jazz pianist Erroll Garner, songwriter Tom Lehrer and flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal. From 1962 to 1981, Mr. Bialek helped bring the Philadelphia Orchestra to Washington for an annual concert series.

He commissioned classical works for the National Symphony Orchestra from Alan Hovhaness (a piece for flute and orchestra), Alberto Ginastera (a guitar serenade) and David Amram (a bassoon concerto).

Mr. Bialek, an amateur classical pianist, was a graduate of Roosevelt High School and George Washington University. He was an Army medic during World War II and participated in the Battle of the Bulge.

As he built his business, his flagship music store was at 1340 Connecticut Avenue NW. He and his wife later opened branches in Chevy Chase and at White Flint Mall in North Bethesda.

They sold a range of mainstream and obscure music and books, and the business grew into a social hub to discuss arts and politics.

For many years, Mr. Bialek was a member of Neighbors Inc., a community group in Washington that promoted racial integration. He also was a coordinator of Washington Musicians for Nuclear Disarmament. He encouraged many of his employees to attend college.

His decision to sell his businesses was a result of health issues -- he was treated twice for benign brain tumors -- and increasing competition from other discounters.

His marriage to Dorothy Bick Bialek ended in divorce.

Survivors include three children, Michael Bialek of Boston, Debi Bialek Klein of Kensington and Wendy Bialek Kling of Boulder, Colo.; and two grandchildren.

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