This week’s Billboard magazine cover features three spectacular women who hold incredible positions of power at three major-label groups — the president of Motown Records, Ethiopia Habtemariam, the president of Epic Records, Sylvia Rhone, and the executive VP of Atlantic Records, Juliette Jones.
These women are reshaping what it means to be a leader in the music industry and while it wasn’t easy to get there, they are doing fantastic jobs.
Ethiopia Habtemariam shared with Billboard a memory of when she was sixteen, writing a fan letter — not to an artist, but to Sylvia Rhone who was then the chairman and CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group.
Habtemariam wanted to introduce herself to Rhone because she was so impressed to hear a black woman was a label’s chairman.
While working in the music industry wasn’t her initial plan, shadowing LaFace Records’ head of promotion, Shanti Das, helped her see so many incredible black women in creative spaces and in every department of the label.
Habtemariam went from interning at Elektra to becoming a part-time assistant in LaFace’s production department. She then landed a job at Edmonds Publishing as a creative manager with the help of LaRonda Sutton, a GM at an affiliated company. Habtemariam then connected with John Sturges and reconnected with Rhone and began signing artists like Keri Hilson, J. Cole and Ludacris.
Sylvia Rhone has quite a different path to become the president of Epic Records. The Harlem-born and raised queen has always had a love for music and would even attend shows at the Apollo Theatre to see performances by some of the greats like Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.
Before joining the music industry, Rhone was a graduate of the Wharton School of Business and entered a program for international management at Banker’s Trust, but when she was sent home for wearing pants to work (this literally happened), Rhone never went back, she told Billboard.
Rhone took a job as a secretary for Alan Lott, the Vice President of Buddah Records, before joining Atlantic Records as the Northeast regional promotions manager in 1981. By 1988, Rhone became the senior VP of the black music division, working with people like EnVogue and Brandy.
Rhone continued to work her way up and is now seated in the president’s chair at Epic Records overseeing artists like DJ Khaled, 21 Savage and Future.
She also has hope for the future of the industry and stated, "Aspiring female executives will be able to find their place in this music ecosystem — and change the world."
Juliette Jones, another powerhouse in the industry, shared quite an interesting memory with Billboard about a job interview in 1994 for a record-promotion job.
She recalled a male senior executive asking her what she would do if a radio programmer asked her to perform oral sex on him to get a record played, to which she responded:
"I’d been taught that all is fair in love and promotion," recalls the frank-talking Jones. "So if that’s what we have to do to get records played, then I’ll be in line — right after the men."
She has done great in her field ever since, like an absolute boss. Jones has had a 25-year career which has included climbing the corporate ladder, gracing companies like Virgin and Warner Bros.
As of 2013, Jones has promoted to the executive VP of Atlantic records. She is also who we could thank for artists like Bruno Mars, Cardi B and Lil Uzi Vert.
Jones is aware of the gender inequality in the industry and suggested, "It’s important, as women, that we learn to use our power to support each other, plus be comfortable in asking questions and voicing our career desires."
The three women have been killing the game and are the driving force behind what’s in our playlists. They are proof that there is a place for women, especially women of color, in positions of power.
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