Andre Harrell, one of the most important music executives of the 20th century, was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment last night MTO News has learned. Early reports suggest that Andre, who was 59 years old, may have contracted the coronavirus.
Andre is best known as the founder of Uptown Records, where Sean “Puffy” Combs got his start in the business. The legendary executive later went on to head Motown Records.
News of Andre's passing was announced last night during DJ D-Nice's Instagram Live for his popular Club Quarantine.
Andre, who was a native New Yorker, 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 the teenage Mary J. Blige in the late ’80s, though her career at the label didn’t fully take off until the early ’90s, with help from Harrell’s enterprising former intern, Sean “Puffy” Combs, who was quickly elevated to an A&R position at Uptown.