Andre Harrell, a veteran music executive best known as the founder of Uptown Records and who later went on to head Motown Records, has died. He was 59. The cause of death is as yet unclear.
A native of New York, Harrell started his career in music as an artist, one-half of the early rap duo Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, whose single “Genius Rap” was a minor hit in 1981. In 1983 Harrell teamed with Russell Simmons, the founder of Def Jam Records, and had one of his early experiences in the business working as a vice president and later GM of the label.
He left to start his own record company, Uptown Records, in 1986. 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 Mary J. Blige in the late ’80s.
Harrell would later find a home for Uptown at MCA where he simultaneously developed multiple projects in film and television in the 1990s, including the movie and soundtrack “Strictly Business.” In 1995, he went on to run Motown Records as president and CEO for a brief period not long after the label’s acquisition by PolyGram.