Why Sylvia Rhone Isn't Scared of Losing
Growing up in culturally rich Harlem in the 1950s, Sylvia Rhone was surrounded by music. She heard it on street corners, in churches, and at concerts at the legendary Apollo Theater. “Harlem was the soundtrack to the heart and soul of the city,” said Rhone during a recent Q&A at the Berklee Performance Center.
Rhone, who received an honorary doctorate on April 5 as part of Berklee’s Career Jam 2019, was honored for her “groundbreaking position as one of very few women to achieve her status as a label head, multiple times, and her influence on the music industry through her leadership,” stated Carl Beatty, Berklee’s assistant vice president of artist and music industry relations.
A graduate of the Wharton School, Rhone’s career in the music industry has spanned more than four decades, beginning as a secretary at Buddha Records in 1974, to becoming vice president and general manager of black music operations at Atlantic Records in the mid-1980s, guiding them as the first major label to invest in hip-hop. In her current role as president of Epic Records, she oversees the music and careers of DJ Khaled, 21 Savage, French Montana, Future, and Camila Cabello.
In a one-on-one conversation with Danielle “Queen D.” Scott, assistant professor in the Ensemble Department, Rhone touched upon her trailblazing career, handling racism and sexism, her love of hip-hop, trusting her instincts, and a myriad of other topics.
She talked about being thrilled to see how far hip-hop music and culture have come, and how, under her leadership at Atlantic Records, the company invested in the genre by offering artists their own labels (Dr. Dre and Eazy E. with Ruthless Records, in one example) to help them build their careers. She believed in the music and the artists and was in it for the long run.
When she went to East West Records America, where she later became chairman, Rhone’s roster of artists expanded to include a diverse pool of talent. She was open to the tests and challenges that came from the naysayers, even going so far as joining Metallica on tour for several weeks. “I’m not scared of losing,” said Rhone, "because I know I can win.” Part of Rhone’s success can be attributed to being fearless and confident in herself and abilities, as well to being open to new challenges.
Rhone left the audience with this piece of advice: “You will make mistakes. You will have successes and failures, but you have to be resilient. And to look at your losses, put them in perspective, learn from them, and then let them go.”
Watch Rhone's Career Jam keynote address: