The man behind Uptown Records, the New York City-based label that launched the careers of acts like Diddy, Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, and Heavy D has died at 59 years old.
Billboard News confirmed the sad news of Andre Harrell’s death after DJ D-Nice first announced it on Instagram Live Friday night. The cause of death has not been revealed.
Harrell was a titan music executive whose pioneering Uptown Records label was integral to the development of numerous hip-hop and R&B in the late ’80s and the ’90s. He also served a stint as president and CEO of Motown Records.
Stylish, sophisticated and fashion-forward, the label played a key role in the development of the New Jack Swing style of R&B, courtesy of acts like Guy (featuring the hugely influential producer-performer Teddy Riley), Al B. Sure and Jodeci, as well as crossover hip-hop via Heavy D and the Boyz and Father MC. Harrell also signed the teenage Mary J. Blige in the late ’80s.
A few months ago, Harrell announced that BET would be producing a scripted miniseries of the story behind Uptown Records that would air this year.
Harrell was also involved in film and television production and was widely known for mentoring another black music mogul, Diddy.
Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, later to be known as Diddy, started off as Uptown as an intern of Harrell’s, and eventually worked there full-time as a talent director, where he helped develop ‘90s R&B megastars like Mary J. Blige and Jodeci, even producing the popular “Hip-Hop Remix” of the latter’s 1992 hit “Come and Talk to Me.” (Harrell fired him from Uptown in 1993, leading to Combs starting the epochal Bad Boy label with friend The Notorious B.I.G. as his marquee artist, but the relationship remained amicable.
Harrell held the role of vice chairman in Diddy’s multiplatform music network Revolt.
An immeasurable loss for the culture, Harrell’s passing is hitting hard for those who worked with him and knew him personally.
Rest in Power, Andre Harrell.