Andre Harrell, founder of Uptown Records, is dead at 59

Harrell famously discovered Sean 'Diddy' Combs and helped launch the careers of Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J. Blige

Andre Harrell attends the Revolt TV 2014 Upfront presentation at Marquee on April 22, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/WireImage)

Andre Harrell, the veteran music executive who founded the legendary Uptown Records, is dead at 59. His cause of death is not yet clear.

Harrell was best known for signing a young Sean “Diddy” Combs to his record label in the ’90s before serving as president and CEO of Motown Records.

Harrell’s death was first confirmed early Saturday by DJ D-Nice while spinning during his Club Quarantine series on Instagram Live. “Truly heartbroken. Rest peacefully, Andre Harrell,” D-Nice later captioned in a post.


READ MORE: Andre Harrell dishes on how he helped take Diddy from shirtless ‘bad boy’ to music mogul

Harrell, who was also known as one half of the hip-hop duo Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, gave Combs his first shot in music before the man then-known as Puff Daddy went on to become the music mogul he is today. Harrell hired a young Combs as an intern in 1990 and later promoted him as an A&R executive.

Before founding Uptown Records, the Bronx, New York native worked with Russell Simmons at Def Jam Records. He was eventually promoted to vice president and general manager. Harrell later decided to part ways with Def Jam to launch a record label of his own.

Other legendary artists who got their start at Harrell’s Uptown Records was the Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, and Mary J. Blige, who became the label’s first female artist. Harrell would later fire Combs who went on to found Bad Boy Records — taking Biggie with him.

(L-R) Andre Harrell, Mary J. Blige, and Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs attend the ceremony honoring Mary J. Blige with a Star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame on on January 11, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Netflix)

“I had an artist in the building. Puff, as an executive was a very artistic guy … I started to branch out into movies and television … Puff wouldn’t listen to anybody but me,” Harrell told the Wall Street Journal in 2014 on firing Combs. “My full-time job became managing Puff.”

“For the whole time he was let go, he was always on payroll. I never stopped paying him until he found his next spot,” he added. “I didn’t do it to hurt him, but I knew it was time for him to grow.”

Harrell would later join MCA productions where he developed multiple projects in film and television throughout the 1990s, reports Variety. He returned to the music business full-time in 1995 as CEO of Motown Records. There he shepherded the careers of R&B greats like Boyz II Men and Johnny Gill. Harrell was also the vice chairman of Revolt, Combs’ multi-platform music network.

Following the news of his death, several celebrities took to social media timelines to issue messages of shock and sorrow.

“I am deeply saddend by the loss of my good friend @andreharrell – Andre has been a blessing to so many, including myself,” wrote fellow music executive L.A. Reid. “It is with a heavy heart that I post this photo of us a few years ago. A truly gifted and brilliant impressario of the highest calibre. Andre, you will be missed. Love and blessings to Gianni and your family.”

“RIP UNC IMMA MISS YOU !!!” posted Diddy’s son King Combs along with a photo of Harrell with King and Diddy’s other two sons Quincy Brown and Justin Combs

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A post shared by Christian Combs (@kingcombs) on

Singer Usher wrote, “My prayers go out to all the family. GOD BLESS ?You were the beginning for so many and a genuine positive energy through it all … I salute you KING!!”

“Damn King,” Swizz Beatz commented on Harrell’s last Instagram post.

“Rest In Peace this is such a shock this year is brutal,” wrote singer Maxwell.

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