Jheryl Busby, 59, Reviver
of the Motown Label, Dies
By DENNIS HEVESI
Jheryl Busby signed big acts
Associated Press, 1993
Jheryl Busby, a music executive credited with reviving the legendary Motown record label in the early 1990s after first bringing success to MCA Records, a company previously known in the industry as the Music Cemetery of America, died Tuesday at his home in Malibu, Calif. He was 59.
The cause has not yet been determined, said Ed Winter, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Department, who said Mr. Busby had been found dead in a hot tub at his home.
Mr. Busby was chief executive of Motown, the industry icon founded in Detroit in 1959 by Berry Gordy Jr., from 1988 to 1995. He had been president of the black music division of MCA from 1984 to 1988.
As a young man starting out in the industry during the 1970s, Mr. Busby regarded Motown as “a label of hope and opportunity,” he told The New York Times in 1989.
“I thought it couldn’t get any better: president and C.E.O. of probably the most important record label in America in terms of black music,” he later added.
With a blend of pop and soul, Motown had transcended racial barriers and consistently topped both the black and pop charts with performers like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Jackson Five, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Spinners and the Four Tops.
But by the time Mr. Busby took over, the company had lost much of its luster, with some of its stars, including Ms. Ross and the Jacksons, defecting to other labels. Sales, which had reached nearly $100 million annually during the best years, had slipped to about $20 million, and the label was eighth on Billboard magazine’s rankings of black album sales.
Within a year, Mr. Busby persuaded Ms. Ross — who with the Supremes and on her own had helped defined the Motown sound with hits like her rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — to rejoin the company’s roster. “It’s like the queen returning home,” Mr. Busby said.
By then Motown had been acquired by a partnership of Boston Ventures, an investment firm, and MCA Inc. — the parent of MCA Records and Universal Studios — and moved to Los Angeles. The partnership paid $61 million to buy the company from Mr. Gordy.
Some of the stalwarts were still bringing profits to Motown. Under Mr. Busby, new stars were signed, including Queen Latifah, Boyz II Men, and Johnny Gill. In 1990, five Motown songs reached No. 1 on the R&B charts.
Mr. Busby’s Motown success was a reflection of his performance at MCA. After starting in the business as a merchandiser for Stax Records, he went on to various promotional and marketing jobs at Casablanca Records, Atlantic Records, CBS Records and A&M Records. In 1984, he moved to MCA and built, virtually from scratch, a black music division that by 1988 was bringing in $50 million in annual sales and for several years was No. 1 in black album sales.
In Mr. Busby’s first year at MCA, the company signed New Edition, its first hit black group since 1979. That success was followed by hits from a diverse selection of performers, including Jody Watley, the Jets, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Bobby Brown and Ready for the World. Mr. Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” in 1988 eventually sold more than five million copies.
Under Mr. Busby, the company also signed Mary J. Blige and the rappers Heavy D. and the Boyz to MCA.
By 1995, MCA was part owner and distributor of Motown. After a legal dispute with MCA, Mr. Busby left Motown. He later became head of the urban music division of the movie studio DreamWorks and, in 2004, founded Def Soul Classics Records.
Mr. Busby was born in Los Angeles on May 5, 1949. Information about his survivors was unavailable.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company