Rhone, born and raised in Harlem, grew up embracing a wide variety of music. On weekly forays to the Apollo Theater, she witnessed performances by Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles as well as Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis. She was also a rock fan who took in shows by Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe & The Fish, Procol Harum and Janis Joplin.
In responding to Rhone’s appointment, one Elektra act proved considerably less open-minded. Mötley Crüe, she recalls, “began to spew racial and sexist epithets publicly, calling me a ‘c---’ from the stage and a ‘n---- bitch’ in a Spin magazine article. I had no choice but to take a stand and immediately drop them from the roster.” Rhone did change the label’s culture, for the better. She oversaw a lineup that consisted not only of Metallica, AC/DC, Staind and Pantera but also Björk, Tracy Chapman, Jason Mraz, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Yolanda Adams. And her staff, she says, “was just as diverse as our roster.”
Before she switched to music, Rhone, a Wharton School graduate, entered an international management program at Banker’s Trust that would have put her on the executive trajectory. Then, one day, she decided to wear pants to work. “They told me to go home and change” into a skirt, says Rhone. “I never went back.”
Instead, she bet on a dream she had harbored since college, when “play big sister” Suzanne de Passe (their mothers were friends) took Rhone and six of her friends to a concert headlined by a group de Passe was managing: The Jackson 5. “I watched her working,” says Rhone, “and something clicked.”
The would-be financier took a salary cut to become secretary at Buddah Records for Alan Lott, vice president of the label’s black music division, in 1974. She continued to learn the industry through posts at ABC Records and Ariola Records. Then, in 1981, Rhone joined Atlantic Records as Northeast regional promotions manager of special markets. Her rise continued with gigs as Atlantic’s director of national black music promotions, vp/GM of black music operations and then senior vp of the black music division in 1988, with a roster that included LeVert, En Vogue and Brandy, and forays into hip-hop with MC Lyte and N.W.A’s Ruthless Records (JJ Fad, The D.O.C., Michel'le).
“I invested in young, focused entrepreneurs in addition to signing acts directly,” says Rhone, a combination that led to “our being the first major label to invest in hip-hop.”