Andre Harrell, founder of influential R&B label Uptown Records, dies aged 59

<span>Photograph: Catherine McGann/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Catherine McGann/Getty Images

Andre Harrell, founder of the influential R&B and hip-hop label Uptown Records, has died. He was 59. The cause of Harrell’s death, which was announced early on Saturday by DJ D-Nice and confirmed by media outlets, was not immediately known.

Harrell started out as half of the early-80s hip-hop duo Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but was best known for schooling an intern, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, in the music business.

Combs, now known as Diddy, launched the careers of 90s R&B megastars Mary J Blige and Jodeci on his own Bad Boy label with his friend Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious BIG, who with his wife Faith Evans also achieved stardom.

Harrell was chief executive of Motown for a short stint, and launched other careers including that of Robin Thicke.

The producer Mark Ronson was among those to pay tribute on Saturday.

“You were a mentor, a friend, a giant influence on me,” he wrote on Instagram. “I looked up to you so much and more importantly, you looked out for me … you were so cool and smart, I just wanted to absorb everything that was in your brain.”

The acclaimed film director Ava DuVernary tweeted: “Saluting Andre Harrell. The architect of so much music, so much culture.”

Harrell also had a spell at Def Jam records with founder Russell Simmons before he established Uptown Records in 1986. It was there that Harrell hit his stride, with hits from rap group Heavy D & The Boyz, R&B singer Al B Sure! and New Jack Swing outfit Guy.

As R&B gave way to rap, Harrell moved toward TV and film, producing New York Undercover and the 1991 film comedy Strictly Business. Late last year, it was announced that he would work with Black Entertainment Television to bring the Uptown Records story to life, as a three-night scripted miniseries.

Harrell told the Hollywood Reporter he was thrilled to share “the management and cultivation of some of the most iconic artists to come out of the late 80s and 90s hip-hop, R&B and soul music era”.