Robert Zildjian, Founder of Sabian Cymbals, Dead at 89
Sabian cymbals are as common on stage as Telecaster guitars and Fender amps. The man behind the brand, Robert Zildjian, died on Wednesday (March 27) at the age of 89. He’s remembered as a “tireless and dynamic force in the drum industry” who reinvented himself after a family split threatened the legacy of his family’s craft.
Zildjian founded Sabian in 1981, two years after his father died, leaving the A. Zildjian brand of cymbals to be run by Robert and his brother Armand. The two could not carry on together, and after some legal tussling, Armand Zildjian was allowed to keep the A. Zildjian Co. Cymbals had been the family craft for 10 generations, so when he decided to form Sabian, the younger brother was going up against a company known worldwide for 350 years.
“I was running 80% of that business and I was told at the death of my father that I was no longer in power and I was out. That was a terrible blow,” Zildjian is quoted as saying in the biography at his website.
Prior to forming Sabian, RZ — as he was known — served in every capacity at Zildjian, having begun an apprenticeship under his father at age 14. World War II threatened the company’s future, as copper and tin were needed to manufacture shells and bullet casings. Zildjian enlisted at that time and served in Europe with the U.S. Army.
The name Sabian came from the first two letters of each of his three children’s names (Sandy, Bill and Andy). They are known as the second largest cymbal company in the world, behind the company he left behind over 30 years ago.
“I’d like to be the best cymbal company in the world,” Zildjian said early on. “I’m not that worried about being the biggest. But if we are the biggest, that’s good too. But being the best is primary… that’s my motivation.”
Zildjian died after a two year battle with cancer.