Sean “Diddy” Combs, Mary J Blige, Jodeci, Heavy D, and Al B Sure have a few things in common: They have written and performed some of the biggest hits of the 80s and 90s, they were major inspirations for many of todays biggest stars and they were all apart of a pioneering record label once known as Uptown Records. Who could create such a legacy? It all started from the dream of one man: Mr. Andre Harrell. He departed this life after complications from heart issues. He was 59.
Hailing from the Bronx, New York, Harrell met his friend and future partner Alonzo Brown in high school. With Brown, he formed the hip-hop duo Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, who shot to stardom with hit songs like 1981’s “Genius Rap” and 1984’s “AM/PM”. Despite the group’s success, Harrell had other aspirations which included being a newscaster. He then attended both Baruch College and Lehman College and majored in communications and business management, before dropping out to work for a local radio station.
In 1983, Harrell started working for Def Jam Records after meeting its co-founder Russell Simmons. Eventually, he became the label’s vice-president and general manager. After a few years working at Def Jam, Harrell left and founded his own label, Uptown Records. In 1988, while Uptown Records, was still in its infancy, a recording of a then 18-year old Mary J Blige, ended up in the hands of Jeff Redd, a then recording artist and A&R runner for the label. Redd sent the recording to Harrell, who met with Blige soonafter. In 1989, she was signed to the label, becoming it’s youngest and first female solo artist.
Thirty-one years later, Blige is a superstar and the reigning queen of hip hop soul, a name given to her by a young Uptown intern, then Howard University student, and current mogul, Sean “Diddy” Combs. Harrell was soon offered a label deal with the MCA Music Entertainment Group. After multiple successful releases, MCA offered Harrell a deal, which involved television and film productions. Together, they developed FOX’s hit primetime police drama, New York Undercover. The popular show aired from 1994 until 1998.
On the heels of the show’s success, Harrell rechristened Uptown Records as Uptown Enterprises. Soonafter, its records were featured in productions for both Universal Television and Universal Pictures. In 1995, Harrell was appointed CEO of Motown Records and remained there until 1997. Harrell’s later achievements included hosting Kiss FM’s Champagne & Bubbles and serving as the Vice Chairman of Revolt.
Eventually, he became the CEO of the Atlantic Records distributed Harrell Records. A man who wore many hats, Harrell will always be remembered for the shining stars that he created and the cherished legacy that he left behind. He will be missed.
Ashly E. Smith is an author, poet, columnist, and freelance writer from Baltimore, Maryland. With her strong pop culture and entertainment backgrounds, Ashly strives to create articles that inspire as well as entertain.