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.