Andre Harrell, a renowned music executive and the founder of Uptown Records who discovered Sean Combs and later went on to head Motown Records, has died on May 8, 2020, in New York. He was 59. The cause of death is as yet not clear.
DJ D Nice revealed the sad news while on Instagram Live for his popular Club Quarantine series Friday night (May 8).
Film producer Tariq Nasheed posted, “The legendary Andre Harrell has passed away today. This was the man behind one of the greatest, most influential record labels ever, Uptown Records,” and basketball player Jamal Crawford said, “RIP to the legend Andre Harrell. Prayers to his friends and family…”
Screenwriter and comic book writer Reginald Hudlin wrote, “Andre Harrell was a friend, a mentor, and an innovator. What a tragic loss. #RIP.” Entrepreneur Naithan Jones wrote, “I am shook. I just learned that my friend Andre Harrell has died. We have lost a pioneer and an absolutely unique and beautiful human being.”
Harrell is credited with having discovered and signing Sean “Puffy” Combs. It was just this past January in Los Angeles at Clive Davis’s pre Grammy dinner when Puffy gave his long speech and reminisced about Andre giving him his big break.
Harrell was born in Harlem, New York and grew up in the Bronx, New York. Harrell started his career in music as an artist, one-half of the early rap duo Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. In 1983 Harrell teamed with Russell Simmons, the founder of Def Jam Records, working as a vice president and later GM of the label.
He left to start his own record company, Uptown Records, in 1986. The label played an important role in the development of the New Jack Swing style of R&B, thanks to acts like Guy, Al B. Sure and Jodeci, as well as crossover hip-hop via Heavy D and the Boyz and Father MC.
In 1988, Mary J. Blige recorded an impromptu cover of Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” at a recording booth in a local mall. Her mother’s boyfriend at the time later played the cassette for Jeff Redd, a recording artist and A&R runner for Uptown Records. Redd sent it to Harrell, who met with Blige. In 1989, she was signed to the label, and she became the company’s youngest and first female solo artist.
He appeared in Diddy’s 2017 documentary “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story” and, according to IMDB, had been working on a TV miniseries about Uptown that was in the development phase at BET. The three-part miniseries titled “Uptown” had Harrell on board as executive producer and was scheduled to hit the airwaves in 2020.