News of the death of veteran music executive Andre Harrell hit the industry hard with many artists, former colleagues, fans and friends expressing their grief on social media Friday night, May 8, into Saturday.
Harrell founded Uptown Records and hired Sean “P. Diddy” Combs as an intern, later promoting him to vice president of A&R. Uptown was home to Mary J. Blige, Father MC, Heavy D and many others. In 1995, Harrell went on to run Motown Records as CEO. Harrell’s final social-media post was a short, vintage clip of Heavy D.
Universal Music, which partnered with Harrell on many projects, issued a statement on Saturday: “We mourn the loss of Andre Harrell, the founder of Uptown Records, one of R&B and hip-hop’s most significant labels, where he molded a distinct sound and launched the careers of many seminal artists who continue to influence music today. Andre’s countless contributions to Universal Music Group include serving as President and General Manager of Def Jam Recordings, CEO of Motown Records and as a successful film and television producer at MCA. UMG and the entire music industry have lost a truly visionary member of our community and we extend our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.”
Motown Records founder Berry Gordy commented: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my friend, Andre Harrell. I appreciated his expertise, forward thinking and the many contributions he brought to Motown after it was sold to MCA. He will be missed.”
Among the artists paying tribute to Harrell after his death were Mariah Carey, Maxwell, 50 Cent, John Legend, Juicy J, Mark Ronson, Dawn Richard and Teddy Riley, who shared a touching memory of auditioning for him for “Making the Band.”
Why Andre 😢😢😢 My heart is breaking and I can't stop crying. He was an amazing friend and I will miss him forever. 😢
— Mariah Carey (@MariahCarey) May 9, 2020
— MAXWELL (@_MAXWELL_) May 9, 2020
R.I.P to Andre Harrell God Bless him. pic.twitter.com/KMhEv6GHr2
— 50cent (@50cent) May 9, 2020
RIP Andre Harrell. Whether we knew it or not, he had such a huge influence on the R&B/hip-hop my generation grew up loving. He signed and mentored so many great artists, made so much great music happen, helped shape the culture
— John Legend (@johnlegend) May 9, 2020
R.I.P. Andre Harrell
— juicy j (@therealjuicyj) May 9, 2020
— Mark Ronson (@MarkRonson) May 9, 2020
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Another sad day😔🙏🏽 We've lost one of the greatest mentors in my life. I'm so happy I got to tell you 1 hour before the versus Battle, how much I respect and love you, as my big brother and mentor! The pep talk that you've giving me right before, felt like the same pep talks that you've given me the beginning of Uptown records, sleeping on the couch at your office (Brownstone) in BK. You chose me out of all the kids that you could have picked to work with you. I can replay IT in my head, all of the moments that I've taken the train and when I got my first car driving to Brooklyn, skipping school, and becoming that sponge just to learn and get my hands on that mixing board at Chung King Studios. I will never forget, all of these cherished moments and I will never forget you!!! 🙏🏽 🙏🏽 🙏🏽 I salute you…King of New Jack Swing👑👑👑 My condolences to the Harrell family & to my Uptown family 4life!!! #rip #greatest #legend #legacy #newjackswing #king
Andre Harrell was the first person I saw in my vocal audition for making the band. He said to me that voice, tone, is different, it’s special. He and Laurie Ann believed in my art. i will never forget that. RIP Andre. And Thank You for the open door🙏🏿
— DAWN (@DawnRichard) May 9, 2020
Harrell’s death came on the same day as music legend Little Richard’s death. African American Film Critics Association president Gil Robertson paid tribute to both of the influential musicians.
“The passing of both Little Richard and Andre Harrell on the same day is a huge blow to American culture. Both innovators and pioneers, Little Richard and Andre Harrell elevated and pushed pop culture forward. Both men helped redefine American culture by putting their own stamp on it. And, though they are gone today, their imprints live forever. The members of AAFCA are profoundly grateful for their gifts and contributions and will keep their family in our thoughts and prayers.”
Senator Kamala Harris paid tribute as well.
Such a tragic loss for the music industry and for all of us. Andre's genius paved the way for so many of the kings and queens of hip hop and R&B. Sending my love to his family and friends during this difficult time. https://t.co/vdA26AGFgr
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 9, 2020
Among the film and television stars who took to social media, noted director Ava Duvernay tweeted that Harrell was “the architect of so much music, so much culture,” while Viola Davis thanked him for “the gift of so many incredible artists.”
RIP Andre Harrell…thank you for the gift of so many incredible artists. Gone too soon.❤ pic.twitter.com/DRcxWJFFIy
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) May 9, 2020
Andre Harrell, wishing safe travels to your beautiful soul.
— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) May 9, 2020
So sorry to hear this news.
André Harrell was a longtime friend and music legend responsible for artists like:
Mary J Blige
Al B Sure
Soul For Real
Rest In Peace.
— Holly Robinson Peete😷🥰 (@hollyrpeete) May 9, 2020
Music executives like Hitco’s L.A. Reid, Atlantic Records’ Brooklyn Johnny, Loud Records founder Steve Rifkind and 300 Entertainment’s Kevin Liles paid respect to the man with whom they collaborated.
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All we did was laugh and laugh and laugh some more… My dog. I’ve known about this for a while now, but I just didn’t want to believe it until the news or someone else confirmed it. I can’t even speak. YOU GAVE US FLAVA!!! YOU PUSHED US TO BE GREATER THAN WE THOUGHT WE COULD BE!!! You were the Blueprint to almost everything we consider FLY today… This man has literally been next to me my entire career, in music and outside of music. FROM THE CHAIRMANS AND CEOS TO THE HOMELESS THIS MAN SHOWED LOVE TO EVERYONE. I AM NOT GOOD RIGHT NOW. WE ARE HAVING YOUR SERVICE, NO QUESTION ABOUT IT. #AndreHarrell Fucking UNREAL. 😔 PLEASE GO SHOWER HIS SONS @GIANNI AND @DIDDY WITH LOVE YALL. This one is HEAVY.
Hearts are heavy today 💔🕊
— Motown Records (@motown) May 9, 2020
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#lifeistooshort well, I’m going to keep this short… Dre: Kev see the world for all it’s worth. It’s in #Technicolor all different shapes, sizes and styles… Big Kev: Dre, I’m simple you gotta explain… Dre: You can’t put a limitation or label on who we are… I’m not playing Judge or Jury, but when I feel that it from an artist it’s no better feeling… our black lens is special and that is what it is… Now: times like these I could go on for days and days. He was a cultural travel agent of cool. Rest well my friend and I know you getting heaven ready for the biggest reunion ever #ripdre 🙏🏾 #rushmanagement #defjam #Uptownrecords #drjeckelandmrhyde #grownandsexy #ghettofabulous #alwaysforus
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In our last conversation on Wednesday about the Uptown mini series, we argued about timing on script notes. I kept telling you to wait on giving your notes to the writer for Night 3 but you were yellin “I gotta give them now!” I said “You gotta wait until we get the new drafts of Nights 1 and 2 so you can see how it all works together!” You said “We can deal with that later! I’m good with all that! There are some things I need to tell her about my life now! She gotta understand the energy behind this sh*t! We gotta get the ending right! As soon as I tell her, then, we good.” I said “F*#k it. I been here with you before. Do what you want.” You heard my tone and said “Hold on DC (one of his nicknames for me) What’s your concern?” I told you my concerns and you said “Oh, I got you! I won’t f*#k the money up! We on the same page with the script! Now let me get the f*#k off the phone so I can do what I do!” I laughed and said “whats that?” And u said “I inspire greatness in artists!!” We had one other call and then a crazy text exchange that ended with you saying that I passed “the trust test” and that you were good. I didn’t even know I was taking a test. I laughed. Now it’s all clear. You were truly one of a kind. You inspired black excellence before it was a hashtag. You wanted all of US to experience what you called “the champagne life.” You were screaming about the power of the culture waaaaaay before anybody else! I love you Dre! We are going to tell your story the right way. You inspired everyone that is working on this film and left a piece of you with all of us. I also know that somehow…someway…you will still get me the rest of your notes on the script, the cast, the director, wardrobe…everything! When we drop Uptown, I know you will be looking down on all of us saying “Hold up! Hold up! They about to show Uptown! We need the bottles right, the room right. And I need the best seat in the house! Because all of this is me!” The fingerprints of Uptown can be found in EVERY black owned company in entertainment today. Period! RIP to my friend and mentor, Andre Harrell @andreharrell. UPTOWN miniseries coming soon to @BET!
Journalists and pop culture experts also weighed in on Harrell’s influence.
Look at this scene from Krush Groove. Nothing but legends. It’s only :15 long and you see LL Cool J, Rick Rubin, DMC (of Run DMC), Jam Master Jay (RIP) and Andre Harrell.
RIP Andre and JMJ 😢😢😢 https://t.co/2F2lSszGG6
— Andrew Barber (@fakeshoredrive) May 9, 2020
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I am so sad to hear of the passing of my friend Andre Harrell a true music biz legend who founded Uptown Records and made the careers of Jodeci, Mary J., Puffy and others. I will take 1,000 fond memories of talking with Andre about music and life. He was a man of class and taste who loved to talk about big ideas and aspired to be a great leader. He loved culture and it was very important to him to understand how to move culture and how to be a part of it. Uptown was a label that extended out from his image as classy but also hood. He loved the whole concept of ghetto fabulous. He had a megawatt smile. I wrote about him flying to London to interview for the Motown Presidency (I’ll post it if I can find it!) and he talked about being very conscious about presenting himself as a man to class and taste so that they’d see that he was indeed the best man for the job. He was a pillar of the modern record business. One of the best of the music execs who infused their personality into their labels. At Uptown the artists, the office, everything reflected Andre’s sense fo class and decorum and taste but with a Black flair and flavor. I’ll never forget our many great conversations. He will live on in the timeless music he made, the classy son he raised Gianni, and the platinum respect he got from so many people. Andre you will be missed. Love you. RIP.
The music that came through Uptown Records, undeniably, helped shape my musical tastes during my teenage years. I owe much to Andre Harrell, whom I never met. He was only 59 years old. We keep seeing so many black folks die so early. I’m worn down by it. https://t.co/rP7SP5ynq7
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) May 9, 2020