Denis Kellman, an entertainment lawyer who worked at several music companies including Columbia and RCA, died of cancer Jan. 15 at home in Warwick. He was 65.
Known to friends as “Dek,” Kellman was the former president and chairman of the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association (BESLA), an 800-member national bar group.
Kellman grew up in Hamilton Heights neihborhood of Harlem and Springfield Gardens in Queens. As an undergraduate, he attended Yale University, where he helped revive the Alpha Phi Alpha African-American fraternity, which had previously disbanded because there were so few black students.
“His fraternity brothers still wrote to him,” said Kellman’s spouse, Cal Miller. “I hope all his fraternity brothers knew how much they meant to him as well, until the end. They were like a family to him.”
Yale awarded Kellman a fellowship to study abroad in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal and Mali, sparking his strong interest in his ancestral roots in Ghana and Barbados. Kellman also had a passion for African and Haitian art.
Kellman later attended Harvard Law School, simultaneously earning his J.D. and MBA. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1977 and began practicing corporate law as an attorney with Leboeuf, Lamb, Leiby and MacRae. But his interest in entertainment law led him to join film production and distribution studio Columbia Pictures Industries.
Kellman’s career included stints at Columbia Records, Polygram Records and RCA Records. He headed RCA’s business and legal affairs department and lived in London for four years. In that position he negotiated music deals for RCA clients such as Five Star, the Eurythmics and Motown artists. He returned to New York when RCA was acquired by BMG and continued as BMG’s chief lawyer for classical and Latin music, along with Broadway albums.
In 2001, Kellman left the music industry to work in-house for Blackstone Audiobooks, a Eugene, Ore.-based audiobooks publisher. Kellman worked remotely from Warwick.
Kellman continued working until he was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, “and even after that,” Miller said. The pair had been together for seven years and married last year.
Kellman is survived by Miller and his sister, Joyce Gist.
Memorial visitation will take place from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24 at Lazear-Smith & Vander Plaat Memorial Home, 17 Oakland Ave. in Warwick. The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25 at St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church, 75 Sanfordville Rd. in Warwick. Donations may be sent to BESLA, P.O. Box 230794, New York, N.Y. 10023.