Andre Harrell, Founder Of Uptown Records, Dies At 59
The Hip-Hop and R&B communities are mourning renowned music mogul Andre Harrell, who founded Uptown Records and was a driving force in merging the two genres. The record executive died Thursday, May 7 at age 59, New York Times reported.
At the time of his death, Harrell was vice-chairman of Sean “Diddy” Combs’ REVOLT media company. CEO Roma Khana gave a statement about Harrell’s death.
“We can confirm the passing of Andre Harrell. Everyone in the REVOLT family is devastated by the loss of our friend, mentor and vice-chairman. Andre’s impact on the culture and on us has been immeasurable and profound. May he rest in peace,” Khana said.
The Bronx, New York native was known for uncanny ability to discover raw talent and turn them into superstars. Among Uptown’s jewels were Mary J. Blige, Notorious B.I.G, Jodeci, Heavy D & The Boyz, Guy, Al B. Sure, etc. He was also the man who gave Diddy his official big break in the entertainment industry.
In 1993, Harrell told Vanity Fair he founded Uptown to provide listeners with an escape from harsh realities.
“I’m an inner-city kid who knows the reality of being poor. I’m looking for escapism. Fun music. Good-time music. So, Uptown,” Harrell said.
Harrell began his music career as half of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a hip-hop duo in the 1980s, Billboard reported. His career aspirations evolved to working as an executive behind the scenes after meeting Russell Simmons and getting hired at Def Jam.
After working his way up the ranks at Def Jam, Harrell left and started Uptown. His label dominated the Hip-Hop and R&B scene in the 1980s and early 1990s. Harrell also ventured into television and film in the 1990s, behind hit TV series “New York Undercover” and film “Strictly Business.”
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Called “a truly visionary member” of the music community by Universal Music Group, Harrell was working with BET on a miniseries about Uptown to chronicle the label’s story at the time of his death.
Harrell said several times he was committed to providing an authentic representation of Black America through his work.
“My goal is to bring real Black America — just as it is, not watered down — to people everywhere through music, through films, through everything we do,” Harrell told the New York Times in 1992.
He reiterated similar words to the Wall Street Journal in 2014. “I tend to lean toward things that are culturally significant in our universe at that time,” Harrell said.
BET President Scott Mills said they are still dedicated to telling Uptown and Harrell’s stories.
“We are mourning the loss of a cultural icon, Andre Harrell, a chief architect of the modern hip-hop and R&B sound,” Mills said, according to Billboard. “Andre was tremendously excited about sharing the origin story of Uptown Records, and its pivotal role in the urban music landscape. With his tragic passing, BET is committed to ensuring that the Uptown limited series event tells both the Uptown story and Andre’s story — that of the incredible music innovator, man and friend to so many.”
Simmons – who, as mentioned earlier, worked with Harrell for years at Def Jam – called his friend’s death “heartbreaking” on Instagram.
“Heartbreaking – No words, my best friend 💔 always compassionate, good-hearted, full of love and.. what a beautiful legacy he leaves in this world … All the inspiration, direction and support he gave to so many … So many can say they are successful because Andre Harrell gave them their start,” Simmons wrote. “He was so beloved because he made his living uplifting others … We celebrate him in his passing because we were so blessed for his presence … He gave everything he had. God makes the best plans R.I.P @andreharrell”