Billboard’s 2020 Women In Music Hall of Fame Honorees Speak Out

Chosen by Billboard as first among their peers in prior years, these former Executive of the Year honorees reflect on the achievements, activism and unprecedented challenges of 2020.

Desiree Perez (Executive of the Year 2019)

CEO, Roc Nation

This was the year Roc Nation client Megan Thee Stallion claimed superstardom, at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Savage” (featuring Beyoncé) and as the featured artist on Cardi B’s “WAP,” which topped the Hot 100 for four weeks. Rostermates Lil Uzi Vert, Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey all reached new peaks. And Roc Nation, after partnering with the NFL to use its platform for entertainment and social justice, in February co-produced the Super Bowl halftime show with Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. Reprise: A Roc Nation Album raised funds for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Foundation for Criminal Justice, and JAY-Z successfully lobbied for passage of probation reform legislation in California. Through it all, says Perez, she has managed the stress of the year by “focusing on things within my control and making sure we are better positioned for whatever the new normal is.”

Song That Inspired Me in the Past Year: “Alicia Keys’ ‘Love Looks Better on You,’ because it recognizes that love is the best option.”

Danielle Aguirre (Co-executive of the Year 2018)

Executive vp/general counsel, National Music Publishers’ Association

The NMPA this year continued to focus on reaching settlements and deals for licenses to “provide needed revenue for our members and songwriters,” says Aguirre, noting that the organization has finalized global settlements and/or licenses with Peloton, TikTok, YouTube, Snap Inc. and others. Aguirre also continues to oversee the NMPA’s battle against Spotify, Amazon, Google and Pandora in the wake of the tech companies’ appeal of a 2018 Copyright Royalty Board decision to raise publishing royalties. In November, the NMPA joined the Nashville Songwriters Association International in a motion asking the CRB to set interim royalty rates at the current levels.

Crucial Issue Facing the Music Industry: “How to protect live-music venues and slowly bring people back to live events. Live music is what I miss most about these last months.”

Jacqueline C. Charlesworth (Co-executive of the Year 2018)

Partner, Alter Kendrick & Baron

“It will be exciting to see the launch on Jan. 1 of the new Mechanical Licensing Collective created under the Music Modernization Act,” says Charlesworth, whose efforts — along with Aguirre, Dina LaPolt and Susan Genco — to achieve passage of the landmark music licensing law led to their shared recognition as Executive of the Year honorees in 2018. Charlesworth remains on the front lines of copyright battles, filing a brief late last year with the D.C. Court of Appeals on behalf of two groups to support increased royalty rates for songwriters. In July, she testified before a Senate subcommittee on what she called the “broken” Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which governs copyright online. “A little over a year ago,” she says, “I left a big firm and moved to Los Angeles. I’m extremely grateful to have built a thriving music and copyright practice out here, even in the midst of a pandemic. And I’m especially proud of my work on behalf of songwriters.”

How I’ve Managed the Stress of the Pandemic: “If all else fails, ice cream.”

Susan Genco (Co-executive of the Year 2018)

Co-president, The Azoff Company

Genco, 54, co-president of The Azoff Company with Elizabeth Collins, played an essential role in securing passage in 2018 of the Music Modernization Act. “Considering all the events of the past year, the crucial issue facing the music industry is the need for the companies which are flourishing during the pandemic to share that wealth with the creators,” she says. Looking back on 2020, she says, “I am very proud of how astutely and gracefully The Azoff Company is navigating the pandemic. These challenging moments remind me of what a privilege it is to be part of a family company that has global impact,” she says, crediting the leadership and stewardship of Irving Azoff, Jeffrey Azoff and Collins. “It reinforces that you can be a big media company without sacrificing your heart and soul.”

Song That Inspired Me in the Past Year: “I have to acknowledge Harry Styles’ ‘Watermelon Sugar.’ It was on nonstop in my house.”

Dina LaPolt (Co-executive of the Year 2018)

Founder/owner, LaPolt Law

An entertainment attorney and civil rights activist, LaPolt, 54, is a co-founder of Songwriters of North America and responded to industry alarms in March that pending coronavirus aid legislation in Congress would not cover the music industry. “Through SONA and other industry stakeholders,” she says, “I helped shepherd the inclusion of independent contractors, sole proprietors and self-employed individuals into the Small Business Administration Act provisions of the CARES Act,” the $2 trillion federal stimulus legislation passed in response to COVID-19. She also worked with SONA and the Edward Charles Foundation to create the Songwriter Assistance Fund to distribute emergency grants to struggling creators during the pandemic. After the May killing of George Floyd galvanized the nation, LaPolt joined the executive leadership committee of the Black Music Action Coalition and advocated for the repeal of section 50-A of New York’s Civil Rights Law, “which concealed records of police misconduct and abuse from the public,” she says.

The Word to Describe 2020: “Surreal.”

Bozoma Saint John (Executive of the Year 2016)

Global chief marketing officer, Netflix

Saint John was recognized in 2016 for her role as head of global consumer marketing for iTunes and Apple Music. She has since held senior marketing positions at Uber and Endeavor before joining Netflix in June. The streaming service has become a major music industry player as the exclusive platform for titles such as Springsteen on Broadway, Rolling Thunder Revue and the series Song Exploder: How Music Gets Made from the podcast of the same name. Saint John defines the crucial issue facing the music industry as the need “to recalibrate — in response to the social and racial unrest in the world,” she says. And the best way to support other women? “Advocate for them,” she says. “Speak up for them.”

How I’ve Managed the Stress of the Pandemic: “To start with the small things, which then in aggregate means I manage the big things. Take things in small pieces.”

Jody Gerson (Executive of the Year 2015)

Chairman/CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group

Gerson, the first female chairman of a major global music company and the first woman named CEO of a major music publisher, has not let the pandemic diminish her ties to her team. “I speak on Zoom with my executives around the world more than ever,” she says. In addition, every Friday she sends a personal email to company employees worldwide “as a way of staying connected.” It’s Gerson’s style of management, which has drawn to her roster “some of the biggest stars and rising talent in the world: Kendrick Lamar, Brandi Carlile, Kenny Chesney, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Van Halen, Surfaces, Luke Combs, Marisa Monte. And we’ve made some very significant [catalog] acquisitions,” she adds. This year UMPG has cheered on the chart success of writer-artists from Taylor Swift to Megan Thee Stallion and secured licensing agreements with TikTok and Snapchat. “I remind my team constantly how lucky we are,” she says, “but I am equally so proud of how hard they have worked and what they continue to accomplish.”

Best Way to Help Other Women in the Industry: “I want to acknowledge the outstanding work being done by the She Is the Music community. We launched our virtual mentorship program, started a U.K. producer program, launched in Latin regions [and more].”

Michele Anthony (Executive of the Year 2014)

Executive vp, executive management board member, Universal Music Group

For Anthony, the pandemic has been a time for all the labels and territories of UMG to rise. “We banded together, and through innovation, smart pivoting and new product strategies delivered unparalleled success for our artists,” she says. While working remotely, “we pioneered new virtual global marketing strategies, and our A&R teams built on their incredible track record of signing and developing artists and delivering some of the biggest albums for our superstars. To help offset the loss of fan connection from touring,” she continues, “we helped create innovative ways for our artists to drive new revenues.” And how did she personally cope with pandemic stress? “Meditation and compassion,” says Anthony.

Most Important Lesson Learned This Year: “Never take your health and the health of your loved ones for granted.”

Julie Greenwald (Executive of the Year 2006*)

Chairman/COO, Atlantic Records

Greenwald has no shortage of artist accomplishments to declare. Coming out of 2019, during which she and Atlantic Records chairman/CEO Craig Kallman led their team to claim the yearend No. 1 label on the Billboard 200, Greenwald this year saw Roddy Ricch reach No. 1 on the Hot 100 with “The Box” — and hold the peak for 11 weeks. Then “WAP” by Cardi B, featuring 300 Entertainment’s Megan Thee Stallion, commanded the top of the Hot 100 for four weeks and became the first No. 1 on the inaugural Billboard Global 200. Reflecting on the past year, “I’m incredibly proud of the way our team locked arms to support important social justice initiatives,” says Greenwald. “People from all levels of the company and from every department came together to work intensively on voter registration and racial inequality. We’ve fundraised and campaigned together, we’ve listened to and learned from each other. It has been great to feel so much energy behind making real change in our industry and our country.”

Judy McGrath (Executive of the Year 2005**)

Board member, Amazon

McGrath, who led Billboard’s inaugural Women in Music list in 2005 as chairman/CEO of MTV Networks, is now a board member of Amazon and “music lover for life,” she says. “I am proud of the growth and diversity in Amazon Music, both Unlimited and Prime, across all devices,” citing its “60 million songs with playlists in every genre.” Managing the pandemic with “a mask, music and hope,” McGrath is buoyed by the achievements of a younger generation of female executives. “As P!nk has said, women in music are killing it,” says McGrath. “So the best way to help other women in the music industry is to make sure that reality is reflected across the board in every aspect of this business. Anything less is intolerable. Look at gender inequality, from artists to executives to board seats, and you can see that the wheels of change need to move faster.”

The Word to Describe 2020: “Endless. Hopefully 2021 will be revolutionary.”

*Also named in 2008, 2010-13 and 2017

**Also named in 2007 and 2009

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 5, 2020, issue of Billboard.

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