Andre Harrell founded Uptown Records, where Sean "Diddy" Combs got his start 

By Ally Mauch
May 09, 2020 11:30 AM
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Legendary music executive Andre Harrell, best known for founding Uptown Records, has died at age 59.

News of his death was confirmed by Variety and first announced during DJ D-Nice’s popular Instagram Live series, Club Quarantine, on Friday night. The cause of death has not yet been released.

Harrell began his music career as an artist with rap duo Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The group had one minor hit in 1981, “Genius Rap,” before Harrell moved on to the business side of the industry.

In 1983, he was hired by Def Jam Records, the label founded by Russell Simmons, and worked as vice president and later, general manager of the label.

Three years after teaming up with Simmons at Def Jam Records, Harrell left to found his own label, Uptown Records, in New York City. It was at Uptown Records that the Bronx-native discovered Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, also known as P. Diddy.

Combs started at Uptown Records as an intern, eventually working his way up to talent director and helping to develop majors R&B stars, including Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. Even after Combs left Uptown Records in 1993, he and Harrell remained friends, with Harrell serving as Vice Chairman for Combs’ TV network, REVOLT.

Simmons posted two tributes to Harrell on his Instagram page, calling him his “best friend.”

“Always compassionate, good-hearted, full of love and.. what a beautiful legacy he leaves in this world... All the inspiration, direction and support he gave to so many…” Simmons wrote in the caption alongside a photo of him and Harrell.

In December, BET announced a three-part scripted miniseries following the story of Harrell and Uptown Records. Titled Uptown, the project, which had Harrell as an executive producer, is scheduled to premiere sometime this year.

“We are mourning the loss of a cultural icon, Andre Harrell, a chief architect of the modern hip-hop and R&B sound,” said BET President Scott Mills. “Andre was tremendously excited about sharing the origin story of Uptown Records, and its pivotal role in the urban music landscape. With his tragic passing, BET is committed to ensuring that the Uptown limited series event tells both the Uptown story and Andre’s story - that of the incredible music innovator, man and friend to so many.”

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Following the news of his death, major names in the music industry paid tribute to Harrell.

“Why Andre,” Mariah Carey tweeted. “My heart is breaking and I can't stop crying. He was an amazing friend and I will miss him forever.”

Usher also remembered the late record producer, sharing a photo of them together. “My prayers go out to all the family," he wrote on Instagram. "GOD BLESS 💔You were the beginning for so many and a genuine positive energy through it all ... I salute you KING!!”

Andre is survived by his 25-year-old son, Gianni Credle-Harrell, and Gianni's mother, entertainment lawyer Wendy Credle.