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Rhone, Sylvia

Sylvia Rhone

Record company executive

For the Record

Sources

Sylvia Rhone has chartered a groundbreaking career in the American recording industry. In 1988, she became the first black woman to serve as vice-president of a major record companyAtlantic Recordsand three years later was named co-president and chief executive officer of her own Atlantic label, EastWest Records America. In 1994, she took on the additional responsibility of chairing another Warner Brothers division, Elektra Music. Though she began her career in banking and finance, Rhone has displayed a knack for discovering and developing new music talent as well as salvaging financially struggling record divisions.

The chart-topping acts brought by Rhone to Atlantica company that made a major turnaround in the late 1980sinclude LeVert, Miki Howard, Gerald Albright, and En Vogue. Rhones promotion to senior vice-president prompted the following words of praise from Atlantic Chair Ahmet Ertegun, as quoted by Laura B. Randolph in Ebony: Under her expert guidance [Atlantics] commitment to Black music has seen a revitalization marked by innovation, imagination and freshness.

Born in Philadelphia and raised in New York Citys Harlem, Rhone received a degree in economics from the prestigious Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1974, she went to work for a major bank in New York City, but after a year decided the atmosphere was too constraining. I wore pants to work and all eyebrows turned up, she told Randolph. No one actually said anything but they made it clear that what Id done was unacceptable. Rhone scrapped her plans for a financial career, took a major pay cut, and started work as a secretary for Buddah Recordsat nearly the bottom rung of the music industry ladder. For Rhone, however, the position represented a great opportunity. I knew I was taking a risk, she told Black Enterprise, but from the moment I sat in my new chair, I knew I was cut out for this business.

Rhone displayed a deftness for work in the recording industry and quickly ran up an impressive resume of promotional work. Shortly after coming on board at Buddah, she was promoted to the position of promotions coordinator and soon thereafter accepted the challenge of heading up national promotions for an independent start-up label. Suddenly I was responsible for getting my music exposed nationwide, she told Randolph. I had to jump in the deep water and sink or swim. Her success in the venture, as well as the promotional work she did for several other independent labels, gained her a reputation as a discoverer and shaper of black music talent.

For the Record

Born Sylvia M. Rhone, March 11, 1952, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of James and Marie (Christmas) Rhone; divorced; children: Quinn (daughter). Education: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business and Commerce, M.A., 1974.

Bankers Trust, international lending, New York City, 1974; Buddah Records, New York City, began as administrative assistant, became promotions coordinator; directed promotional work for several record labels; worked at Atlantic Records, New York City, beginning in 1985, began as director of national black music promotion, became vice-president and general manager of Black Music Operations, named senior vice-president of the company, 1988, appointed chair and CEO of EastWest Records America, 1991; member of board of directors of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Phoenix House Foundation, Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and R&B Foundation.

Selected awards: Vice President of the Year, R&B Report; Joel Weber Award for Excellence in Music and Business, 1993; Sony Music Excellence Award, 1993.

Addresses: Home 21 South End Ave., New York, NY 10280. Office EastWest Records America, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

Rhone accepted a number of positions in record promotions from the mid-1970s into the 1980s. In 1985 she was hired as director of national black music promotion at struggling Atlantic Records, which in its heyday represented such acts as Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. Under Rhones guidance, the black music roster at Atlantic expanded to include such Number One acts as LeVert, Miki Howard, and Gerald Albright. Her work in reaping financial gains for that label resulted in another promotion in 1988this time to senior vice-president of the entire Atlantic Records companymaking her the only black woman to hold as high a position within a major American record company. Chuck Philips in the Los Angeles Times declared of Rhone, She got results. Her company has been on a multimillion-dollar hot streak since the day she took over.

Rhones success at Atlantic continued. In late 1991, Atlantic formed a new label, Atco/EastWest, to encompass a broader range of musical artists. Atlantic later dropped Atco, and Rhone was named chair and chief executive officer of her own label, EastWest Records America, which features both black and white acts varying in style from rock and pop to R&B to rap. Supervising a staff of more than 40 people, Rhone assumed responsibility for overseeing all facets of the labels recruitment, marketing, and promotion of recording artists.

In an article in Black Enterprise, Rhone elaborated on her efforts to make a mark in the music industry, stating: Im really excited about this venture because my team will create a distinct personality for the label. Then, in July of 1994, Rhone also took on the responsibility of chairing another Warner division, Elektra Music, along with EastWest. Rhone commented in Billboard, Theyre two labels with very distinct personalities. I think they complement each other in their diversity.

Much has been written about the sexism and racism prevalent in the entertainment industry, but Rhone has been a vanguard in breaking down barriers. As she remarked in the Los Angeles Times, I think that thanks to my success and the success of others that, eventually, that sexist good ol boy school of thought will go the way of the dinosaur. Itll take us a few years to accomplish it, but hey, Im up for the fight. And so are a lot of other women. In addition, Rhone commented in Black Enterprise on the impact African-Americans are exerting on the U.S. recording industry: African-Americans can not only create music, but control it as well. The world is watching us.

Sources

Billboard, April 24, 1993; July 30, 1994.

Black Enterprise, August 1991; December 1991.

Ebony, November 1988; September 1992; March 1993.

Entertainment Weekly, December 6, 1991.

Hollywood Reporter, December 7, 1993.

Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1992; April 18, 1993.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from EastWest publicity materials, 1993.

Michael E. Mueller

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Rhone, Sylvia 1952–

Sylvia Rhone 1952

Record company executive

At a Glance

Sources

Sylvia Rhone has chartered a groundbreaking career in the American recording industry. In 1988, she became the first black woman to serve as vice-president of a major record companyAtlantic Recordsand three years later was named co-president and chief executive officer of her own Atlantic label, EastWest Records America. Though she began her career in banking and finance, Rhone has displayed a knack for discovering and developing new music talent, as well as salvaging financially struggling record divisions. The chart-topping acts brought by Rhone to Atlantica company that made a major turnaround in the late 1980sinclude LeVert, Miki Howard, Gerald Albright, and En Vogue. Rhones promotion to senior vice-president prompted the following words of praise from Atlantic chairman Ahmet Ertegun, as quoted by Laura B. Randolph in Ebony : Under her expert guidance [Atlantics] commitment to Black music has seen a revitalization marked by innovation, imagination and freshness.

Born in Philadelphia and raised in New York Citys Harlem, Rhone received a degree in economics from the prestigious Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1974, she went to work for a major bank in New York City, but after a year decided the atmosphere was too constraining. I wore pants to work and all eyebrows turned up, she told Randolph. No one actually said anything but they made it clear that what Id done was unacceptable. Rhone scrapped her plans for a financial career, took a major pay cut, and started work as a secretary for Buddah Recordsat nearly the bottom rung of the music industry ladder. For Rhone, however, the position represented a great opportunity. I knew I was taking a risk, she told Black Enterprise, but from the moment I sat in my new chair, I knew I was cut out for this business.

Rhone displayed a deftness for work in the recording industry and quickly ran up an impressive resume of promotional work. Shortly after coming on board at Buddah, she was promoted to the position of promotions coordinator, and soon thereafter accepted the challenge of heading up national promotions for an independent start-up label. Suddenly I was responsible for getting my music exposed nationwide, she told Randolph. I had to jump in the deep water and sink or swim. Her

At a Glance

Born Sylvia M. Rhone, March 11, 1952, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of James and Marie (Christmas) Rhone; married. Education: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business and Commerce, M.A., 1974.

Worked for Bankers Trust, New York City, 1974; Buddah Records, New York City, started as administrative assistant, became promotions coordinator; directed promotional work for several record labels; Atlantic Records, New York City, 1985, began as director of national black music promotion, became vice-president and general manager of Black Music Operations, senior vice-president of the company, 1988, chair and CEO of EastWest Records America, 1991, chair and CEO of Atco-EastWest label, 1991.

Awards: Honoree at 15th annual Jack the Rapper convention, Atlanta, 1991.

Addresses: Home 21 South End Ave., New York, NY 10280. OfficeAtco-EastWest, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

success in the venture, as well as the promotional work she did for several other independent labels, gained her a reputation as a discoverer and shaper of black music talent. In the mid 1980s, she was hired as director of national black music promotion at struggling Atlantic Records, which in its heyday represented such acts as Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. Under Rhones guidance, the black music roster at Atlantic expanded to include such number one acts as LeVert, Miki Howard, and Gerald Albright. Her success resulted in another promotion in 1988this time to senior vice-president of the entire Atlantic Records companymaking her the only black woman to hold as a high a position within a major American record company.

Rhones success with Atlantic has continued. In 1991, she was named co-president and chief executive officer of her own label within the company, EastWest Records America. Overseeing a staff of more than forty people, Rhone assumed responsibility for overseeing all facets of the labels recruitment, marketing, and promotion of recording artists. In an article in Black Enterprise, Rhone elaborated on her efforts to make a mark in the music industry, stating: Im really excited about this venture because my team will create a distinct personality for the label.

In late 1991, Atlantic formed a new label, Atco-EastWest, to encompass a broader range of musical artists. Rhone was named chair and chief executive officer of the label, which will feature several dozen actsboth black and whitevarying in style from rock and pop to rhythm and blues to rap. Commenting in general on the impact African-Americans are exerting on the U.S. recording industry, Rhone, as quoted by Christopher Vaughn in Black Enterprise, proclaimed: African-Americans can not only create music, but control it as well. The world is watching us.

Sources

Black Enterprise, August 1991; December 1991.

Ebony, November 1988.

Michael E. Mueller

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Rhone, Sylvia

Rhone, Sylvia

(1952-)
Elektra Entertainment Group

Overview

With 25 years of experience, Sylvia M. Rhone has risen through the ranks to become one of the most influential women in the music industry. A pioneer, she was the first black woman to head a major record company. Her involvement with artist development and record promotions as well as her executive skills have resulted in financial success for her labels and artists such as singer Tracy Chapman, former lead vocalist of 10,000 Maniacs Natalie Merchant, rhythm and blues singer Gerald Albright, and rapper Busta Rhymes, among others.

Personal Life

Sylvia M. Rhone was born on March 11, 1952, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her parents, James Rhone and Marie Christmas Rhone, moved to the Sugar Hill section of Harlem when Sylvia was very young, and she spent the rest of her childhood there. Her father was a prominent attorney who became involved in politics as a Republican adviser to New York governor Nelson Rockefeller. Her mother was a schoolteacher.

Rhone's family knew several famous musicians, and jazz greats Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, and Nancy Wilson were family friends. As a teenager, Rhone enjoyed going to see Nancy Wilson perform as her birthday present. She was also a fan of Aretha Franklin.

Rhone attended parochial school and returned to Pennsylvania to earn an undergraduate degree in economics and marketing from the prestigious Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation she spent less than a year in the management training program at Bankers Trust in New York, leaving over issues about dress code, among others. "I wore pants to work," she told Ebony in 1988, "and all eyebrows turned up. No one actually said anything but they made it clear that what I'd done was unacceptable." Taking a major pay cut, she found a job as a secretary with Buddah Records, an independent record company.

Career Details

Although she was starting at the bottom level, Rhone knew right away that she was destined to work in the music business. Showing a flair for promotional work, she was eventually given the job of promotions coordinator at Buddah and then headed up national promotions for the label. From 1976 to 1978 she worked for ABC Records as a regional promotion manager, and then for Ariola Records in the same capacity in 1979.

In 1980 Rhone joined Elektra Records, where for three years she was the northeast regional promotion manager in charge of special markets. She was promoted to director of marketing in 1983, a position she held until 1985. During this period she was learning the business and preparing herself for future opportunities.

Rhone's big break came in 1986, when record executive Doug Morris selected her to head up Atlantic Records' black music division. Rhone had been in charge of the division's promotion activities since 1985 and welcomed the challenge of turning around Atlantic's once-prosperous black music operations. Under her leadership, Atlantic's black music division rose to the number one spot in the United States in terms of market share, and it was making money again. By 1988 she was named senior vice president. The artist roster she built included Gerald Levert (son of the O'Jays lead singer Eddie Levert) and Miki Howard. She started Atlantic Street to sign and market groups such as En Vogue, MC Lyte, and D.O.C.

In 1990 Rhone told Morris that she wanted to start her own label, preferably one that was multiracial and had mainstream acts. The next year she was named co-president and CEO of her own label, EastWest Records America. With a staff of more than 40 people, she was responsible for recruiting, marketing, and promoting the label's artists. They included some artists from Atlantic, such as En Vogue, as well as hard rock groups from ATCO such as Pantera and AC/DC. Within four years, EastWest was generating revenues of $90 million a year. At the 15th Annual "Jack the Rapper" convention in 1991, Rhone was honored as one of four black record label heads.

In August 1994 Rhone became the first black woman to be appointed head of a major record label when she was named chairperson of Elektra/EastWest. By the end of the year, a corporate reorganization resulted in Rhone being in charge of the Elektra Entertainment Group, which included the labels Elektra, EastWest, Asylum, and Sire. The merger required Rhone to lay off about 40 people in the Elektra and EastWest promotions, marketing, publicity, and artist development staffs, including several executives.

Elektra's sales were less than $200 million when Rhone took over in 1994, and her goal was to increase sales to $300 million in three years. Elektra, once a hot label, had recently been underperforming, and Rhone's task was to rebuild the label. She took a personal interest in a comeback album by Tracy Chapman and in the solo debut of Natalie Merchant, both of which sold more than 3 million copies each. She also persuaded hard rock group Metallica, a band whose new albums and catalog sales accounted for some 20 percent of Elektra's revenues, to stay with Elektra. Among Rhone's setbacks at Elektra, though, was losing singer Anita Baker to sister label Atlantic.

Chronology: Sylvia Rhone

1952: Born.

1974: Graduated from Wharton School of Business and Commerce, University of Pennsylvania, with a B.S. in economics.

1974: Landed job as a secretary at Buddah Records.

1980: Began working at Elektra Records, first as a regional promotion manager, then as director of marketing.

1985: Joined Atlantic Records as director of national black music promotions.

1986: Named vice president and general manager of the black music division of Atlantic Records.

1988: Named senior vice president of the black music division of Atlantic Records.

1991: Became chairperson and CEO of her own label, EastWest Records America.

1994: Named chairperson of Elektra Entertainment/EastWest Records Inc., which became the Elektra Entertainment Group.

In 1995 Rhone survived corporate power struggles at parent company Time Warner after her mentor, Doug Morris, was fired. Morris later became head of MCA Records and reportedly offered Rhone a job there, but she stayed with Elektra. By 1996 Rhone had reached her target of $300 million in revenues. She was the only Time Warner label head to reached her financial targets.

Social and Economic Impact

Sylvia Rhone's success as the head of a major record label has helped break down gender discrimination in the music industry for women who want to advance their own careers. It has also benefited female performers, who can now work in a more cooperative environment, according to singer Natalie Merchant.

Moreover, as an African-American woman, Rhone has been able to provide positive representation of her race as well as her gender in a business that does not usually support minority leaders. "This is an important, symbolic moment not only for me, but for every African-American and woman in our business. I know I have some very big shoes to fill, and I look forward to the challenges ahead," she told the L.A. Times when she was appointed to head up Elektra. At that time, only three percent of corporate management positions in the U.S. were held by black women.

Rhone not only helped create and control music in the industry, she participated in corporate ventures designed to showcase the contributions of black musicians as well. She helped formulate and support a highly acclaimed lecture series entitled "Our Roots Run Deep" in honor of Black History Month.

Rhone told Rolling Stone, "I have to satisfy my artists, number one. And number two, I have to satisfy my corporate obligations." She has nurtured rap artists to such an extent that Buster Rhymes allowed her to remove a sexually explicit rap from his 1997 CD, When Disaster Strikes. He told Rolling Stone, "I hated it — I still hate it, but I love Sylvia. She looks out for me, and [going with her on] this is one of the ways I showed my appreciation." Elektra's parent company, Time Warner, had borne the brunt of criticism in 1995 for distributing rap records with explicit lyrics.

Rhone has used her position not only to make money for Elektra, but also to shape the public's taste in pop music and develop the careers of her label's artists.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Elektra Entertainment Group
75 Rockefeller Plaza, 15th Fl.
New York, NY 10019
Business Phone: (212)275-4000
URL: http://www.elektra.com

Bibliography

Andrews, Suzanna. "Taking Care of Business." Rolling Stone, November 13, 1997, p.169.

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 2. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.

Contemporary Musicians, Volume 13. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.

Jeffrey, Don. "Calm Follows Warner Music Group Storm." Billboard, July 30, 1994, p.9.

Jeffrey, Don. "Sylvia Rhone Leads Elektra's Turnaround." Billboard, November 9, 1996, p.1.

Philips, Chuck. "Elektra Chief Labeled a Shining Star." Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1995, p.D1.

Philips, Chuck. "New Elektra Chief Breaks Male Bastion." Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1994, p.D1.

Rosen, Craig. "Elektra Fires 40." Billboard, November 5, 1994, p.5.

Smith, Jesse Carney, editor. Notable Black American Women, Book II. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996.

"Sylvia Rhone Named New Head of Elektra/EastWest." Jet, August 15, 1994, p.55.

Who's Who among African Americans. 1998-99 edition. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.

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