Female music industry executives are hard to come by, and female black industry executives are rare.
However, one woman has managed to transcend all barriers: Sylvia Rhone, who is regarded as the most influential female executive in the entire history of music.
Having occupied the top role in three major record companies, she has overseen the careers of artists as diverse as Lil Wayne, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, and even Metallica.
Sylvia Rhone was born in Philadelphia on March 11th, 1952.
She grew up in Harlem, where her exposure to R&B influences like Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin and rock musicians like Jimi Hendrix gave her the grounding in a diverse range of music.
While initially working at Bankers Trust in New York City after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, her passion for music took over, and she landed a role as a secretary for Buddha Records in 1974.
Sylvia Rhone worked her way through the ranks in the white-male-dominated business of the time, landing gigs at record labels such as ABC Records, Ariola Records, and Elektra Records.
By 1986, she had received a promotion to senior vice president and general manager of Atlantic Records, where she managed a variety of artists, including Brandy and En Vogue.
In 1990, she became the first African-American woman to head a major record company. Over the years, her roles in many record companies have not just seen her foster new talent but have also reinvigorated and furthered artists’ careers who were on the scrap heap.
In 1994, she became chairwoman of the Elektra Entertainment Group, where she oversaw the merger of three different record companies into one of the most diverse record labels out there.
Artists like Busta Rhymes and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were labelmates with various artists like Tracy Chapman, AC/DC, Pantera, Bjork, Metallica, and Missy Elliott.
By 2004, her life came full circle when she was appointed the president of Motown Records. Under her leadership, Motown started to match the success of larger music business platforms by adding contemporary artists such as Chamillionaire, Migos, Akon, and Lil Wayne to the label.
Her visionary approach comes from her Harlem upbringing. She has used her background to bring enrichment to the cultural and artistic identity of the music industry by focusing on a diverse environment, musically, culturally, and racially.
Sylvia Rhone is a complete trailblazer in every sense of the word, having been the first African-American woman to be a CEO of a major record label owned by a Fortune 500 company. Her accolades are only secondary to her approach to preserving and protecting culture.
Upon receiving the Culture Creators Icon Award in 2018, in her acceptance speech, she stated, “Our one common goal is to protect the culture.”
Her role is not just as a pioneering black woman in modern America, but it’s the fact that her duties come from a place where she wants to protect identity.