Born c. 1949, in Los Angeles, CA; children: three. Education: Attended Long Beach State College. Addresses: Office-- Chief Executive Officer, Motown Records, 6255 Sunset Blvd., 17th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90026.
"Times have changed," Jheryl Busby, president and chief executive officer of Motown Records, announced to Pamela Shariff in Black Enterprise, "and Motown can't be what it was in the 1960s. Today, I want to position this company as a beacon to black executives and to black talent." While Busby acknowledged in the New York Times that Motown's past was stellar when Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Diana Ross and the Supremes were regularly contributing classic songs to the Top 40, he proposed a different course for "the second chapter of Motown." When Busby took office, however, he did not foresee legal battles with his promotional distributor, MCA Records, that in the early 1990s threatened to destroy his visionary aims. Nonetheless optimistic, he disclosed to Jeffrey Ressner in Entertainment Weekly, "If you're a Christian like me, you realize there is a God. And the last time I checked, He was on Motown's side."
Born in Los Angeles, California, Busby attended Long Beach State College. He began his career as an inventory clerk at Mattel Toys, working his way up to new-toy coordinator. Later Busby joined Stax Records--the legendary Memphis-based 1960s soul alternative to Motown's crossover pop that, with its subsidiary, Volt, introduced Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Booker T. and the MGs, and the Staples Singers. Eventually, Busby became head of West Coast promotion and marketing for the label. During the early 1980s, he did promotional work for several record companies, including Casablanca, CBS, A&M, and Atlantic. Employed by MCA Records as vice-president of the black music division in 1984, Busby enjoyed phenomenal success. His promotion of such established singers as Patti LaBelle and up-and-coming acts like New Edition catapulted record sales to $50 million in the mid-1980s. When he ended his career at MCA in the late 1980s--as president of the black music division--his sector was number one in the industry in black album sales.
Offered the opportunity to head Motown in 1988, Busby told Michael Lev in the New York Times, "I thought it couldn't get any better: president and CEO of probably the most important record label in America in terms of black music." But revitalizing Motown, he would find, involved a mass of legal red tape and required learning "a more aggressive marketing-oriented approach to developing new talent," he revealed to Black Enterprise' s Shariff.
In September of 1989 Busby united Los Angeles-based Motown with its cultural counterpart on the East Coast, New York City's mecca for black talent, the historic Apollo Theatre, to form Apollo Theatre Records, a new label that Motown would promote and distribute. Filmmaker Spike Lee and recording artists and producers Kool Moe Dee, Heavy D, and Teddy Riley, among others, were invited by Apollo Theatre Records to form an advisory committee. Performers who appeared at the celebrated "Amateur Night at the Apollo" and area clubs were selected by Motown and the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, owner of the Apollo, to record for the new label. When Busby announced the Apollo venture at a press conference, he asserted, as was reported in Black Enterprise, "Motown's objective is to make these talented young adults into full-fledged performing artists."
Forming a training program for would-be record executives was another part of Busby's agenda at Motown as the 1980s drew to a close. He also persuaded superstar Diana Ross to come back to the Motown label, for which she had recorded some of her greatest hits, including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Busby told Richard W. Stevenson in the New York Times, "It's like the queen returning home."
In 1990 Motown outscored all other record labels in the rhythm and blues category, producing five Number One hits. Busby's leadership took Motown from tenth to fourth place on the black album charts with releases like Stevie Wonder's soundtrack from the motion picture Jungle Fever. And Busby registered platinum records with multimillion dollar sales after launching the careers of kiddie rappers Another Bad Creation, rhythm-and-blues crooner Johnny Gill, and the harmony-heavy Boyz II Men--whose "End of the Road" became the longest-running Number One single of the rock era in October of 1992.
In his effort to make Motown more profitable, Busby entered into a dispute with the label's distributor and part owner, MCA Records, a unit of Matsushita Electric Company of Japan. According to the original agreement, MCA was to manufacture, market, and promote Motown records for a relatively high fee, but by 1991 Busby had become disillusioned by the distributor's performance. Black Enterprise reported that he charged the company with "ineptitude and deliberate misconduct" and "egregious distribution failures" in a lawsuit seeking to terminate Motown's contract with MCA. MCA countersued, its representatives claiming in the New York Times that Motown was "unprofitable and many in the industry think of it as uninspired." Busby's next move was to establish a distribution relationship with PolyGram--while still under contract with MCA--because, he argued in Entertainment Weekly, MCA treated Motown "like a third world company."
Embroiled in legal problems and plagued by the defection of some of the label's top talent, Busby faced litigation in the early 1990s that threatened to unsettle Motown indefinitely. With plans to merchandise the Motown label to generate income throughout the 1990s, Busby expressed regret over Motown's difficulties with MCA, telling New York Times contributor Lev, "I never thought I wouldn't be able to sit down with people I spent five years with and talk about where we go in the future."
by Marjorie Burgess
Jheryl Busby's Career
Record company executive. Inventory clerk, purchasing agent (in production supplies), and new-toy coordinator for Mattel Toys; regional promotional representative and head of West Coast promotion and marketing for Stax Records; independent album promoter; performed promotional duties for Casablanca, Atlantic Records, CBS Records, and A&M Records, 1980-83; began as vice-president, became president of black music department for MCA Records, 1984-88; president and chief executive officer of Motown Records, 1988--; developed, with New York City's Apollo Theatre, Apollo Theatre Records, 1989.
- Black Enterprise, November 1989; December 1991.
- Entertainment Weekly, October 25, 1991.
- New York Times, February 19, 1989; May 19, 1991.
- Washington Post, June 2, 1991.