Andre Harrell, music mogul, icon, and founder of hugely influential R&B and hip-hop label Uptown Records, has passed away at the age of 59. Although details on his death are unknown, Harrell’s passing was first announced by DJ D-Nice on his Instagram Live early Saturday morning, May 9th, before separate sources confirmed with TMZ.
The Bronx-born mogul entered the music business as a part of the hip-hop duo Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde in 1981. The group gained minor fame before Harrell ventured into the business side of music. In 1983, Andre Harrell met Russell Simmons where the two worked together and lead Andre to ultimately becoming a Vice President for Def Jam Records.
In 1986, Harrell left to start his own record company, Uptown Records. The stylish, sophisticated and fashion-forward, label played a key role in developing the “New Jack Swing” style of R&B, with acts like Guy, Al B. Sure and Jodeci, as well as crossing over to hip-hop via Heavy D and the Boyz and Father MC. Harrell also went on to sign Mary J. Blige in the late ’80s where her career fully took off with help from Harrell’s intern at the time, Sean “Puffy” Combs, who was quickly elevated to an A&R position at the record label.
In 1995, Harrell himself would leave the label he founded for a short-lived stint as CEO of the legendary Motown Records. Two decade later, Harrell’s former intern Puffy would hire his old boss to serve as vice chairman of the media mogul’s Revolt music network.
A pioneer of hip-hop and R&B and black entertainment in general, Harrell has had a huge influence and impact on the industry. Tributes have poured in for Andre Harrell from the likes of Mariah Carey, Ava DuVernay, Viola Davis, DJ D-Nice, and more. “RIP Andre Harrell … thank you for the gift of so many incredible artists. Gone too soon” Viola Davis tweeted.