UPDATE: Motown Promotes Ethiopia Habtemariam to Chair & CEO

After six years as president of Motown Records, Ethiopia Habtemariam has been promoted to chairman/CEO of the iconic label. (Billboard)

Billboard

Ethiopia Habtemariam joins a small circle of women currently holding the title of chairman at a major label.

After six years as president of Motown Records, Ethiopia Habtemariam has been promoted to chairman/CEO of the iconic label.

Habtemariam now reports directly to Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Sir Lucian Grainge as Motown becomes a standalone label.

In a release announcing Habtemariam’s appointment, Grainge said, “Motown is such an important voice and, just as when it was founded by Berry Gordy, its impact continues to be felt around the world. Motown’s resurgence and powerful partnerships under Ethiopia’s leadership has advanced the label’s legacy as home to some of today’s biggest hitmakers and most meaningful voices in music.”

Since overseeing Motown’s move from New York to Los Angeles in 2014, Habtemariam has orchestrated creative and entrepreneurial ventures with various partners including Quality Control Music. In addition to Migos, City Girls, Lil Yachty and Layton Greene, QC’s roster includes Lil Baby whose second album My Turn closed out 2020 as the most popular album of the year in the U.S. with 2.63 million equivalent album units, according to MRC Data.

Motown is also home to Blacksmith Records (Ted When, Vince Staples) and Since the 80s (Asiahn, Njomza) as well as Erykah Badu, Kem and Tiana Major9, among other artists. Both Major9 and Lil Baby are current Grammy Award nominees. “Collide” by Major9 with Earthgang, featured on the Queen & Slim soundtrack, is up for best R&B song. Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” received nominations in two categories: best rap song and best rap performance.

Calling it an “incredible honor to represent and define what Motown is today,” Habtemariam thanked Grainge “for his constant support and guidance over the years; my Motown team for all they have done and continue to do; the Capitol team for their help in building Motown over these past six years; Clarence Avant who has always taught me about the power of responsibility; and Mr. Berry Gordy, for his faith in me to carry on his legacy.”

With her promotion, Habtemariam joins the small circle of women currently holding the title of chairman at a major label including Julie Greenwald, chairman/COO of Atlantic Records, and Sylvia Rhone, chairman/CEO of Epic Records. Jody Gerson is chairman/CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, while Desiree Perez is CEO of Roc Nation.

“I’m so grateful for this huge opportunity,” Habtemariam tells Billboard, “because there’s been a lot of incredible hard work put in to allow me to get to this space. Coming into this industry, there were so many incredible women that I looked up to within its various business sectors. They gave me confidence and never made me question what I would be able to achieve. And I’m thankful I got to see that. This opportunity is really me standing on their shoulders.

Habtemariam adds, “My goal and my hope is that there’ll be a lot more women that look like me in leadership positions going forward.”

Noting also that Motown “will be a standalone label going forward with some shared services,” Habtemariam says the imprint’s upcoming release slate includes new music from Migos, Tiana Major9, Tiwa Savage, Ne-Yo, Kem, new signee Bree Runway and Erykah Badu, “who has some interesting things that are lining up.” Motown also established Motown U.K. last summer and recently relaunched its Black Forum label, beginning with the Feb. 26 reissue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1971 Grammy-winning album for best spoken word, Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.

Before joining Motown and being named president of the label as well as executive vp of Capitol Music Group, Habtemariam served as president of urban music & co-head of creative at Universal Music Publishing Group.

Related:

TIME: Motown President Ethiopia Habtemariam on Steering the Legendary Label Through the Pandemic


Ethiopia Habtemariam, the president of Motown Records, has spent the past year assisting her artists in navigating the painful reality of life offstage while retooling album-release plans. Below is Time Magazine’s interview with Ethiopia. (Photo: Camera Press/Redux)

TIME

Updated: February 7th, 2021

The pandemic rocked the music industry. Live performances, which are such a critical part of driving the business (and making fans euphoric) were quickly shut down last year. Concerts are going to be slow to return. (Who’s up for crowding next to sweaty strangers, yelling at the top of their lungs?) Ethiopia Habtemariam, the president of Motown Records, has spent the past year assisting her artists in navigating the painful reality of life offstage while retooling album-release plans. She helped one artist cope with depression when a much anticipated record was postponed and, in the outbreak’s early days, counseled another to take the virus more seriously. “There was a lot of misinformation about COVID and communities that it was hitting,” she said. Habtemariam remembers one young artist who was still going out on the town telling her, “Oh no, that’s a rich-people thing.”

While live shows floundered, music delivered comfort to people stuck in their homes and apartments. Total audio consumption, which includes streaming and album sales, was up 11.6 % in 2020, according to MRC Data. And for Habtemariam, 41, the past year helped her ongoing mission to make the legendary Motown brand relevant in today’s culture. Back in 2015, she signed a joint venture with Quality Control Music, an influential hip-hop label based in Atlanta, leading to a string of megahits from hot young artists including the Migos, Lil Yachty and Lil Baby. Lil Baby, an Atlanta rapper, singer and songwriter, had the best-selling album of 2020, according to MRC Data, beating out Taylor Swift and the Weeknd. And Lil Baby’s single “The Bigger Picture,” released after the murder of George Floyd, became an unofficial protest anthem played at marches and rallies throughout the country. It has more than 112 million views on YouTube.

Habtemariam, who started her music career as an unpaid intern at 14, recently joined TIME for a video conversation on the pressures of taking over a storied label, the perils of social media for artists and her favorite live venues.

(This interview with Motown Records president Ethiopia Habtemariam has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

So, what have you been listening to, to get through the pandemic?

I went through a phase around April, May, when I was like going down memory lane of my childhood, reminiscing on songs that I grew up on. Middle school, high school years. And it was actually therapeutic in many ways. It kind of helped me get through a lot of the different emotions and feelings that I was having, and also it reminded me of why I fell in love with music.

Rumor has it that you were a big TLC fan.

I still think that they don’t get the credit they deserve because they were so huge! TLC, Aaliyah, Missy [Elliott], Lauryn Hill—I was a massive Janet Jackson fan as well.

I’m a huge fan of music, period. I’m a daughter of immigrants. My parents are both Ethiopian, and I’m Ethiopian American. I grew up in the South. So here I am, this young girl, with a name like Ethiopia; I was a bit of an alien, but music was my salvation. It was my escape, but it was also a bridge for me to connect and build friendships.

How did the pandemic disrupt your release schedule? You still managed to have one of the biggest albums of the year, with Lil Baby’s My Turn.

I remember it vividly because we scheduled some in-stores for him. I remember coming to Atlanta and making sure everyone had hand sanitizer. And then everything shut down, and we had to really come together to figure out how we were going to move forward.

We put it out Feb. 28, and it was massive. The response was incredible; everything was great. And two weeks later, the world shuts down. One of the things that was in the plan was, of course, a huge tour.

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