Universal Music's Jeff Harleston Takes Lifetime Music Industry Award at 43rd T.J. Martell Gala

Mary J. Blige and Honoree Jeffrey Harleston
Theo Wargo/Getty Images  for The T.J. Martell Foundation

Mary J. Blige and Honoree Jeffrey Harleston pose for a photo backstage during The T.J. Martell Foundation 43rd New York Honors Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on Oct. 15, 2018 in New York City.

Jeff Harleston, Universal Music Group's general counsel and executive vice president of business and legal affairs, received the Lifetime Music Industry Award at the 43rd Annual T.J. Martell Foundation New York Honors Gala Monday night (Oct. 15).

"I've been in the music for 25 years, and when I first started, all I wanted was a ticket to the T.J. Martell dinner," Harleston said in his acceptance speech. "It was an opportunity to be around this community of music people at their very finest moment."

Hosted by comedian Bill Bellamy, the cancer-research fundraiser featured performances by cello phenom Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Mary J. Blige, while the Lifetime Business Leadership Award was given to restauranteur Drew Nieporent, whose Myriad Restaurant Group's properties include New York fixtures Nobu, Tribeca Grill and Montrachet. He thanked the music industry for spending "so much money at Nobu" that he was able to send his kids to college.

"And as someone who's been part of the music business for 25 years, I was one of the people who helped put your children through college. I have four of my own -- maybe we can work something out," Harleston joked.

Music attorney Joel Katz, who has chaired the foundation for the past three years, said it had given away nearly $300 million dollars to support cancer research, and Harleston noted this year's campaign had raised more than $2 million. The foundation was launched by music executive Tony Martell, whose son T.J. died at the age of 19 after battling leukemia, and enlisted his friends including Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington to hold a fundraiser that raised $50,000 in its first year.   

Introducing Harleston, Universal Music Publishing Group chairman/CEO Jody Gerson said Harleston had recruited her son, as well as the son of Roc Nation CEO Jay Brown, to a basketball team he was coaching. "He was an extraordinary coach, and left an indelible mark on my son Luke's life," said Gerson, describing Harleston as one of UMG's "most important and respected leaders." "Everybody asks how women like me find balance between work and home -- I am in awe of how Jeff achieves the balance," Gerson said.