In 1988, Sony Corporation (Japan) acquired the CBS Records group (USA), and two years later it created Sony Classical to succeed the time-honoured Columbia and CBS Masterworks labels. The Sony Classical logo in its present form thus dates from 1990. The history of the Columbia name goes back to 1887 when the Columbia Phonograph Company was founded in the District of Columbia and then began releasing cylinder recordings. The first release on Masterworks, Columbia’s new classical label, came in 1927: Brahms’s First Symphony conducted by Felix Weingartner. The company’s US division was bought in 1938 by the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) – its UK subsidiary had already merged with the Gramophone Company to form EMI. Under the leadership of recording director (later president) Goddard Lieberson, Columbia Records became an industry leader in both catalogue and technology, including the introduction of the 33 1/3 rpm long-playing record in 1948. Over the decades, the flagship line Columbia Masterworks – renamed CBS Masterworks in 1980, when it separated from the Columbia label – developed a roster of leading classical musicians that included violinists Isaac Stern and Joseph Szigeti; cellists Pablo Casals and Yo-Yo Ma; pianists Glenn Gould, Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Horowitz and Murray Perahia; guitarist John Williams; and conductors Dimitri Mitropoulos, Eugene Ormandy, Sir Thomas Beecham, Bruno Walter and George Szell; as well as composer-conductors Igor Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein. Lieberson also pioneered the recording of Broadway musicals, and the Masterworks label produced such best-selling original-cast recordings as Kiss Me, Kate (1948), South Pacific (1949), My Fair Lady (1956), West Side Story (1957) and The Sound of Music (1959).
Since 1990, when it became Sony Classical, the label has continued to develop its roster of outstanding artists, burnishing its storied discography with new productions featuring Lang Lang, Plácido Domingo, Jonas Kaufmann, Roberto Alagna, Juan Diego Flórez, Vittorio Grigòlo, Simone Dinnerstein, Khatia Buniatishvili, Pretty Yende, Teodor Currentzis and Igor Levit, as well as reissuing treasured classical and original-cast recordings from its precious Columbia / CBS legacy. It has also expanded its presence in the field of film soundtrack recordings with the release of such Oscar-winning scores as Titanic (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Red Violin (1999) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). In 2005, Sony Classical became part of Sony BMG Masterworks. After the buyout of BMG’s share in 2008, it became represented by Sony Classical International in Berlin and in the USA by Sony Masterworks.
The Sony Classical logo echoes the “Magic Notes” logo that was Columbia's emblem until 1955.