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The special, broadcast live by REVOLT and BET on Sunday (May 24) evening, was carefully crafted to celebrate the life and legacy of the impactful executive and underscored a resounding theme — one concerning a lack of knowledge of just how far-reaching the late mogul’s legacy is.
This theme, perhaps, is what colored Harrell’s decades-long career the best. That much was clear as the music community came together on to offer the general public a more nuanced view into who Mr. Champagne & Bubbles truly was by speaking with balanced reverence for his acumen in the music industry as well his integrity.
Among the first to speak to the credit of Harrell was Pharrell, as he acknowledged Harrell’s influence in his own career: “I would not be here, as a musician, if it weren’t for him recognizing what was in Teddy Riley. If it wasn’t for him recognizing what was in Puff. [Andre] did that for scores of people, and those people went on to change the course of history through sound.”
In that same breath, Pharrell didn’t miss the opportunity to reflect on the late exec’s character by noting his generosity with wisdom and his penchant for being accessible in moments of need.
One powerful hallmark of the evening was the reminder that Harrell’s legacy extended far past music, with his contributions in film particularly in the spotlight. During his lifetime he played a role in producing films such as the Jessica Alba cult favorite Honey, Chris Rock’s Good Hair documentary, and 90s crime drama “New York Undercover.” among others.
Among those speaking to such accomplishments were filmmaker Lee Daniels and actor Tyrese, who took the opportunity to reveal that he’d be portraying Teddy Pendergrass in an upcoming biopic. It’s a role that Tyrese says Harrell predicted he’d win an Oscar.
“He believed in your black magic,” proclaimed the Fast & Furious star. “He believed in your black excellence.”
Similarly, Jamie Foxx reflected on his introduction to the phrase “Black excellence” all thanks to Harrell. These words would help the star carve his way toward an Oscar win for his role as Ray Charles in Ray. He remembers Harrell being the first he called after winning the award.
“He was a record company executive, but he was different, he was actually nice,” said Foxx. “Most record company execs are a**holes.”
Other revelations arrived from Robin Thicke who debuted a new track, “Forever Mine,” during the airing, revealing that Harrell gave the song his stamp of approval shortly before his death. Along with “Forever Mine,” Thicke also delivered on a rendition of Jodeci “Come & Talk To Me,” citing it as an early inspiration from the late exec’s Uptown Records. While Thicke began his relationship with Harrell as his mentee, the pair grew increasingly close over the years with the mogul even becoming the godfather to Robin Thicke’s son. Musically, Harrell had a strong hand in Thicke’s craft, taking on the role of executive producer for most of the crooner’s catalog.
While most are familiar with Harrell’s role in kickstarting the careers of the likes of Mary. J Blige, Jodeci, Heavy D, and Diddy, among a host of others, his own humble beginnings have often been masked by his great success. Opening up about that time period, however, was Russell Simmons who reflected on the inception of his lifelong friendship with him at the start of Def Jam. In an interview recorded before his death, Harrell remembers splitting a $400/week salary with Russell Simmons in 1983 when he first came on board.
“Andre was so generous to so many people,” recalled Simmons. “I’ve never met a man who didn’t have a mean bone in his body... the world will never see a person like him. In my darkest times, he stood right by me.”
Testaments to Harrell’s friendship also arrived from the likes of Kimora Lee Simmons, Al B. Sure, Naomi Campbell, Babyface, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Mariah Carey; his son, Gianni, and so many more.
In her tribute, Carey remembered Harrell’s personality while citing his playful nature, which echoed Simmons’ sentiments that there will never be anyone else quite like him.
“Anytime I was with Andre, I had fun. There will never be anyone else like him,” she stated. “He certainly had an impact on my life and so many people’s lives.”
As for Babyface, the hyphenate returned with another rendition of the same track that he unveiled just two days following Harrell’s death in honor of his late collaborator and dear friend: “I remember how you smell. I remember how you laugh — how you always told your truth,” he crooned. “Andre, you knew who you were, and I swear if nothing else, you taught me how to be me.”
Notably, the tribute captured the unique blend of appreciation that Harrell garnered across all levels — inspiring the aspirational, connecting with his peers, and receiving respect from the veterans who came before him. Among those vets was Quincy Jones, who offered a profound survey of who Harrell was.
“One of my own mantras is to love, laugh, live, and give,” declared Jones. “Well, Andre embodied all of those characteristics. He was the personification.”