Sylvia Rhone: The Godmother of the Music Industry


It’s not hard to see why musician Marc Johnson would call Sylvia Rhone “the godmother of the music industry” as you look at the depth and breadth of her influence. In addition to the years she has dedicated to finding and cultivating new talent across multiple musical genres, Rhone is also known for the risks that she has taken for great gains.

Rhone started off her career in music by taking a massive pay cut, and leaving a position at a bank, for a secretarial job at Buddah Records. Although she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, she found that the banking industry was not for her. In an interview with Ebony magazine, Rhone recalled having done something as simple as wearing pants to work at the bank. It was 1975, and women were still making their way through the male dominated market. At that time, genders were living with different expectations. Women would dress in feminine skirts and heels, not pant suits. Rhone said that even though no one said anything to her directly, it was clear that pants were not acceptable for women.

srh2Rhone felt that she needed a freer environment. So, she took a risk,by leaving her job and starting a new career in the music business.

Rhone’s tenacity proved to be a guiding force for the music industry. She quickly moved up the ladder to become a nation wide promotions director. In just a short time, Rhone had gone from working in finance to being responsible for publicizing new artists nationwide. “I had to jump in the deep water and sink or swim,” said Rhone in an Ebony Magazine interview. She was definitely able “swim,” her success led to being hired as the director of national black music promotion at Atlantic Records.

Atlantic Records once boasting acts such as R&B soul giants Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, had been a big name in the record industry. But the company fell on hard times prior to Rhone coming on to the scene.

Rhone had a natural eye for talent by signing musicians such as LeVert, Miki Howard, and Gerald Albright.

Just three years after being hired at Atlantic, she was promoted again in 1988 – this time to senior vice-president of the company. . Rhone was credited with helping to revive the brand.
Years laterRhone continued to push up the ladder by becoming CEO of an Atlantic Records offshoot, EastWest Records America. Formerly, Atco/EastWest,. When it separated, EastWest became Rhone’s own label. She took the responsibility for all of the label’s recruitment, marketing and promotion. She signed diverse acts like the all female R&B group En Vogue and the heavy metal band Pantera. While continuing to Chair EastWest Records America, Rhone also became chair of Elektra Entertainment Group. Missy Elliot, awell known female artists of the past two decades, credits Rhone, along with musician Merlin Bobb, for helping her get her first platinum album while she was signed to Elektra. Recently, Missy posted a photo via Twitter of her receiving a platinum plaque with the following quote: “History!! Me & my 1st platinum plaque, thank you [Sylvia Rhone] & Merlin Bobb. Elektra, they pushed me!”

srh5Rhone continues to shape the music industry through multiple avenues. She currently presides as president of Epic Records which having artists such as Mariah Carey, Avril Lavigne, Fifth Harmony, The Fray, Ciara, Tamar Braxton, and Meghan Trainor. For her work with Epic, Rhone was honored by the Music Business Association with the 2014 Presidential award for Sustained Executive Achievement. Having been around since the 1960’s formerly as the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, MBA has been an important part of the music industry as a non-profit company focused on connecting and promoting professionals in the industry like Rhone.

srh3has always had a knack for spotting talent across musical genres and racial lines. VH1 included her in their black history celebration of female pioneers in the music industry. In a clip from VH1 posted to her Twitter account she speaks about how she sees art: “Art reflects life. If we don’t start sharing each other’s cultures, where do we end up? Color outside the lines, that’s where greatness is.” As she continues to shape the direction of the music industry, Rhone hopes that her positive influence, and the positive actions of others will ripple out across society. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times she commented on sexism and racism in the music industry: “…Thanks to my success and the success of others…, eventually, that sexist good ol’ boy school of thought will go the way of the dinosaur. It’ll take us a few years to accomplish it, but hey, I’m up for the fight. And so are a lot of other women.”

-Tabi Lawson