Suzanne de Passe
Chairman & CEO, de Passe Entertainment
Chairman and CEO of de Passe Entertainment, Suzanne de Passe began her career at Motown Records as Creative Assistant to Berry Gordy, subsequently rising to the position of President of Motown Productions. She was a partner in Gordy/de Passe Productions prior to establishing de Passe Entertainment in 1992. The recipient of an Academy Award nomination for co-writing the screenplay “LADY SINGS THE BLUES”, Ms. de Passe won two Emmy Awards and NAACP Image Awards as Executive Producer of “MOTOWN 25: YESTERDAY TODAY, FOREVER” and “MOTOWN RETURNS TO THE APOLLO.” She also served as Executive Producer for the highly acclaimed and award winning mini-series “LONESOME DOVE,” “SMALL SACRIFICES,” “THE JACKSONS: AN AMERICAN DREAM” and “BUFFALO GIRLS.”
Ms de Passe has received numerous honors, including the AWRT (American Women in Radio and Television) Silver Satellite Award (1999), Women in Film Crystal Award (1988), Revlon Business Woman of the Year Award (1994), Essence Business Award (1989) and was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1990. She is the subject of two Harvard Business School case studies: Suzanne de Passe and Motown Productions and de Passe Entertainment.
Ms de Passe served as Executive Producer on the half hour shows, “SISTER, SISTER” and “SMART GUY,” both of which aired on the WB Network, and which were produced in association with Paramount and Disney Television, respectively.
Additionally, Ms. de Passe served as Executive Producer on the 4-hour documentary “MOTOWN 40: THE MUSIC IS FOREVER” which aired on ABC. She was Executive Producer of “THE TEMPTATIONS,” the four-hour Emmy Award winning miniseries, for NBC; Executive Producer of “ZENON, GIRL OF THE 21ST CENTURY” which aired on the Disney Channel; Executive Producer of “THE LORETTA CLAIBORNE STORY” for Disney/ABC Sunday Night; Executive Producer of “CHEATERS” which aired on HBO in May 2000 as well as “ZENON: THE ZEQUEL” which aired in January 2001 on the Disney Channel. Most recently, Ms de Passe served as Executive Producer of the 32nd Annual NAACP Image Awards, which aired March 2001 on the Fox Network.
President, Motown Records
Sylvia Rhone has chartered a groundbreaking career in the American recording industry. In 1988, she became the first black woman to serve as vice-president of a major record company–Atlantic Records- -and three years later was named co-president and chief executive officer of her own Atlantic label, EastWest Records America. In 1994, she took on the additional responsibility of chairing another Warner Brothers division, Elektra Music. Though she began her career in banking and finance, Rhone has displayed a knack for discovering and developing new music talent as well as salvaging financially struggling record divisions.
The chart-topping acts brought by Rhone to Atlantic–a company that made a major turnaround in the late 1980s–include LeVert, Miki Howard, Gerald Albright, and En Vogue. Rhone’s promotion to senior vice-president prompted the following words of praise from Atlantic Chair Ahmet Ertegun, as quoted by Laura B. Randolph in Ebony: “Under her expert guidance … [Atlantic's] commitment to Black music has seen a revitalization marked by innovation, imagination and freshness.”
Born in Philadelphia and raised in New York City’s Harlem, Rhone received a degree in economics from the prestigious Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1974, she went to work for a major bank in New York City, but after a year decided the atmosphere was too constraining. “I wore pants to work and all eyebrows turned up,” she told Randolph. “No one actually said anything but they made it clear that what I’d done was unacceptable.” Rhone scrapped her plans for a financial career, took a major pay cut, and started work as a secretary for Buddah Records–at nearly the bottom rung of the music industry ladder. For Rhone, however, the position represented a great opportunity. “I knew I was taking a risk,” she told Black Enterprise, “but from the moment I sat in my new chair, I knew I was cut out for this business.”
Rhone displayed a deftness for work in the recording industry and quickly ran up an impressive resume of promotional work. Shortly after coming on board at Buddah, she was promoted to the position of promotions coordinator and soon thereafter accepted the challenge of heading up national promotions for an independent start-up label. “Suddenly I was responsible for getting my music exposed nationwide,” she told Randolph. “I had to jump in the deep water and sink or swim.” Her success in the venture, as wll as the promotional work she did for several other independent labels, gained her a reputation as a discoverer and shaper of black music talent.
Rhone accepted a number of positions in record promotions from the mid-1970s into the 1980s. In 1985 she was hired as director of national black music promotion at struggling Atlantic Records, which in its heyday represented such acts as Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. Under Rhone’s guidance, the black music roster at Atlantic expanded to include such Number One acts as LeVert, Miki Howard, and Gerald Albright. Her work in reaping financial gains for that label resulted in another promotion in 1988–this time to senior vice-president of the entire Atlantic Records company–making her the only black woman to hold as high a position within a major American record company. Chuck Philips in the Los Angeles Times declared of Rhone, “She got results. Her company has been on a multimillion-dollar hot streak since the day she took over.”
Rhone’s success at Atlantic continued. In late 1991, Atlantic formed a new label, Atco/EastWest, to encompass a broader range of musical artists. Atlantic later dropped Atco, and Rhone was named chair and chief executive officer of her own label, EastWest Records America, which features both black and white acts varying in style from rock and pop to R&B to rap. Supervising a staff of more than 40 people, Rhone assumed responsibility for overseeing all facets of the label’s recruitment, marketing, and promotion of recording artists.
In an article in Black Enterprise, Rhone elaborated on her efforts to make a mark in the music industry, stating: “I’m really excited about this venture because my team will create a distinct personality for the label.” Then, in July of 1994, Rhone also took on the responsibility of chairing another Warner division, Elektra Music, along with EastWest. Rhone commented in Billboard, “They’re two labels with very distinct personalities. I think they complement each other in their diversity.”
Much has been written about the sexism and racism prevalent in the entertainment industry, but Rhone has been a vanguard in breaking down barriers. As she remarked in the Los Angeles Times, “I think that thanks to my success and the success of others that, 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.” In addition, Rhone commented in Black Enterprise on the impact African-Americans are exerting on the U.S. recording industry: “African-Americans can not only create music, but control it as well. The world is watching us.”