Andre Harrell, the music executive who launched Uptown Records and helped usher in a new era of hip-hop flavored soul and R&B, was laid to rest on Saturday (May 23) at George Washington Cemetery in Paramus, NJ. The funeral followed a celebration of his life at Vander Plaat-Caggiano Funeral Home in Fair Lawn, NJ. Harrell died on May 7 from heart disease-related issues.
Participants included musical performers Jodeci and gospel icons BeBe and CeCe Winans. Remarks were made by Tracy Maitland, Cohen, Mark Siegel, Rock, Blige and the Rev. Al Sharpton in addition to Harrell’s son Gianni Credle-Harrell.
Harrell played a key role in launching the careers of P. Diddy, Blige, Teddy Riley, Heavy D, Jodeci and many others, which made a television tribute on BET, Revolt TV and Fox Soul the following night all the more heartfelt as artists and friends spoke without a script or teleprompter.
Former rap partner in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Alonzo Brown (who went on to work with Harrell at Motown), referred to Harrell as his “best friend.” Russell Simmons spoke about the success of Heavy D’s first single “Mr. Big Stuff”, which ironically Simmons first rejected at Def Jam, inadvertently causing Harrell to sign Heavy D as his first artist at Uptown. Radio personality Ed Lover gave a brief history of Uptown, the start of Mary J. Blige’s career, and the birth of the term “hip-hop soul.”
There were other tributes from artist Al B. Sure (who was signed to Uptown’s production company but not the record label). Snoop Dogg spoke about Harrell’s inspiring “Black Excellence” term and film maker Lee Daniels said that Harrell possessed the “cultural barometer of what everyone wanted to see.” This was exemplified when Alonzo Brown spoke of he and Harrell selling the successful “New York Undercover” TV show to Fox and getting the movie “Honey” made, which spawned the career of Jessica Alba. “He makes you feel the impossible is possible,” Brown said of his former partner and friend.
Amid a rambling tribute, model Naomi Campbell spoke of Harrell’s “big heart and smile,” a point made by most of the artists and executives. Mariah Carey called him, “Fun personified.”
Robin Thicke who has worked with Harrell throughout his career, initially as part of Harrell’s Nu American Records imprint delivered a rendition of Jodeci’s “Come And Talk To Me.”
There were also tributes from Quincy Jones, Rep. Maxine Waters, who spoke to Harrell two days before his death about his political activism through the Vote or Die initiative, Babyface, Jamie Foxx, Chris Rock, P. Diddy and Clarence Avant — a consiglieri, advisor and label head to many industry and political figures — a mantel Harrell was surely in line follow.