First-Ever Chip Hooper Award Winner Kelly Stelbasky Got Her Start in Music With the Legendary Agent

Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup
Dan Weiner, Val Hooper, Sam Gores, Kelly Stelbasky and Max Hooper photographed at the 2018 Billboard Live Music Awards at the Montage Beverly Hills on Nov. 14, 2018 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

When Kelly Stelbasky arrived in Monterey, California, in 2005 to accept a job at Monterey Peninsula Artists, she brought two suitcases and an open mind. She had just met agent Chip Hooper at an industry conference and decided to leave her job at William Morris in New York and come to work with him representing acts like Phish and Dave Matthews Band

“You meet people in your life that end up changing the trajectory of how the rest of your life goes. Chip was absolutely one of those people for me,” she tells Billboard.

Stelbasky joined Monterey Peninsula Artists soon after it had been purchased by Paradigm and Hooper went from fast-rising agent to fast-rising recruiter. Hooper forged a number of relationships with indie agents and small booking outfits that had the culture he was looking to cultivate at Sam Gores' talent house, named Paradigm to codify a belief in human-centric representation.

“Our dad was larger than life,” said Hooper’s daughter, Valerie Hooper, who joined her brother Max Hooper in giving out the first ever Chip Hooper Award at the Billboard Live Music Awards held Nov. 13 in Beverly Hills. Created two-and-a-half years after Hooper lost his battle with cancer, the award for young professionals in the music industry was created by Paradigm and Billboard to honor the man and acclaimed photographer who “devoted himself completely to his passions for music and culture, worked tirelessly for his clients and submersed himself in his own artwork,” as Valerie Hooper explained.

The award was certainly on Stelbasky’s mind when she and the other four nominees stepped into the Montage for the award ceremony. When she heard her name announced, Stelbasky rose from the seat and approached the podium, hugging both the Hooper children before accepting Billboard's first ever Live Music award created to honor a music executive.

“Chip was larger than life,” she told the audience. "He always believed in me and he always had my back. His influence remains my North Star, my barometer of how to live, work, love and dream. I miss him every day. I know many of you do too.”

Since 2010, Stelbasky has worked at Live Nation as a vp of touring, joining the company after working with Hooper for five years.

“He bought be lunch every day at Monterey Peninsula and invited me to Thanksgiving Dinner because my family was far away,” she says. “When I left, he wrote me this really nice note saying he was happy for me, and over the years he continued to support me in my career as a mentor and a friend. I think that really speaks to how much he cares about people.”

Stelbasky is part of the U.S. concerts division at Live Nation and works with acts like Dead and Company, Twenty One Pilots, Zac Brown Band and Train. Shortly after moving to L.A. in 2010, Stelbasky was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and found out she needed to undergo treatment. Worried that her new health insurance had not yet kicked in, she called Chip to get his advice.

“At first he said, ‘I got to call you right back,’ which if you know Chip, is what he always says,” she recalls. “And within an hour, he had his doctor on the phone with me, talking me through it and answering my questions.”

Stelbasky also credits Live Nation for supporting her as she went through treatment. She has been cancer free since November 2011. It was during her recovery that she met Gerry Holtz, a partner in a post-production facility in Hollywood. The pair were married in 2017 and now live in the Glendale. Stelbasky has an bachlor's degree from Miami University and a master's degree from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

She said she still remembers getting the call from Hooper when he found out he was sick. Hooper would acknowledge that his prognosis was not good and even asked his friends not to Google the cancer he was fighting because he didn't want them thinking he was not going to make it.

“There was a part of Chip who would never let you believe he couldn't beat it,” says Stelbasky. “We thought Chip could do anything. And he really could. When he was gone it was a shock to everyone.”

Today Hooper’s memory lives on in his children, as well as his artwork and the many people he has mentored and inspired in the music industry. Valerie Hooper is currently pursuing a master's degree in education and a teaching credential in mathematics and is living in Monterey. Max Hooper played professional basketball for two seasons after graduating from Oakland University and is currently pursuing a coaching career. 

Valerie tells Billboard she thinks about her dad often and remembers this piece of advice best: "Always be open to happiness," she says, "and actively pursue it, finding things to be grateful for everyday, even on the hard days." She said her father also told her to "always believe in myself."

Billboard will begin accepting nominations for the 2019 Chip Hooper award beginning in August.


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