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Ruben Rodriguez, Former Motown & Columbia Promotion Exec, Dies at 68

Ruben Rodriquez, a veteran record promotion executive whose career included successful tenures with Motown, Columbia, Elektra and his own Pendulum Records, died Sunday (Oct. 24) of natural causes in Fort Lee, New Jersey. He was 68.

Known for his sophisticated sartorial style and affable personality, Rodriguez received the lifetime achievement award from the Living Legends Foundation in 2015. During that presentation, LLF noted of Rodriguez, “Since the very beginning of his 40-plus-year stint in the business, he was always dapper in appearance while remaining sharp in his professional focus on what would eventually afford him the moniker, ‘Radio’s Best Friend.’ This honor is being presented for the longevity of passion, integrity and creative spirit given so generously to an industry that has benefited tremendously from its donor.”

“There is no sufficient number of words to fully express our heartfelt thanks for the outpouring of sympathy, love and support that has been extended to our family during these difficult times, said daughter Erica Rodriguez in a statement sent to Billboard. “There is nothing easy about losing those we love, but it is in our grief where we too are visited with moments of gratitude. Ruben Rodriguez was many things to many people; friend, mentor, confidant, and peer … To the world, he was ‘Radio’s Best Friend.’ But to myself and brother he was simply dad — a title he believed to be his biggest accomplishment of them all.”

Born Sept. 7, 1953 and raised in the Van Dyke & Tilden projects in Brooklyn, New York, Rodriguez began the first chapter in a 50-year industry career at the age of 18 as Northeast regional marketing and promotion manager at Motown Records. After running campaigns on behalf of projects by Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, Rodriguez further honed his promotion skills at Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records where he worked with a diverse roster that included Donna Summer, Cameo, KISS, Parliament Funkadelic and the Village People.

From there, Rodriguez advanced to senior vp promotion at Chris Blackwell’s Island Records (Grace Jones) and to the same post at Columbia Records. At the latter stop, his promotional achievements earned No. 1 albums for George Michael, Terrence Trent D’Arby, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, among others.

After exiting Columbia, Rodriguez pursued his entrepreneurial calling with the establishment of  label, Pendulum Records. The label made its breakthrough with the 1992 release of Digable Planets’ “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” which hit No. 1 on the rap chart and No. 15 on the Hot 100. The song subsequently won the group a Grammy Award for best rap performance by a duo or group in 1994.

While building Pendulum, Rodriguez simultaneously accepted another senior vp promotion post, this time with Elektra Records. Responsible for working the hits behind artists such as Anita Baker, Keith Sweat and Natalie Cole, Rodriguez helped forge the label’s hip-hop footprint in the early ‘90s through projects by Brand Nubians and Leaders of the New School, the group that brought Busta Rhymes to the forefront.

In addition to Pendulum, Rodriguez also operated label consulting firm Ruben Rodriguez Entertainment, Inc. and management company RAM Talent Group, Inc. One of the latter’s first clients was R&B singer-songwriter Donell Jones; later signings included Shaliek and Lords of The Underground. In 2003 Rodriguez was presented with the Joseph Papp Racial Harmony Award by The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

Preceded in death last November by his son Xavier, who worked with him, Rodriguez is survived by his daughter Erica, among other relatives. Services will be held on Saturday, November 6 (1 p.m. – 3 p.m.) at St. Cecilia Church, 55 W. Demarest Avenue, Englewood, NJ 07631.