This hour-long one-on-one interview program provided a rare and insightful look into the life of hip-hop’s pioneering businessman, Russell Simmons. Taped in Chicago, Simmons was interviewed by media maven Cathy Hughes, founder of Radio One and TV-One.
Simmons shared his life story before a sold-out crowd of one thousand, telling of his childhood in Queens, New York, his becoming a co-founder of Def Jam records, his enormous successes with the clothing line, Phat Farm, and Def Comedy Jam and Def Poetry Jam. Simmons also spoke at length about his philanthropic initiatives and about his political involvement in urging others to vote. Simmons’ influence can be felt in virtually all aspects of business and media, be it music, fashion, financial services and even the beverage industry.
An Evening With Russell Simmons featured seldom seen historic footage and interviews with friends and associates filmed over the course of Simmons’ career. Taped in front of a live audience at The Art Institute of Chicago, An Evening With Russell Simmons celebrated The HistoryMakers’ fifth anniversary. The program was held in memory of Launa Thompson, wife of Abe Thompson. In attendance was previously honored HistoryMaker, Dionne Warwick, as well as numerous other HistoryMakers. Will Griffin, president and COO of Simmons Lathan Media Group also premiered The HistoryMakers DVD Collection on Faith, Success and Courage.
Born in 1957 in Hollis, Queens, New York, Russell Simmons became a member of a street gang in his youth. He went on to study sociology at the Harlem branch of the City College of New York where he became involved with the emerging hip-hop movement. Simmons became involved in promoting young rap acts, and in 1984, with partner Rick Rubin, founded Def Jam Records. Within three years, acts such as L.L. Cool J, the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC were at the top of the charts with such hits as "I Can’t Live Without My Radio" and "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)."
Simmons’ success increased with the founding of his own clothing label, Phat Farm, a movie production house, Def Pictures, and an advertising agency, Rush Media Company. In 1985, Simmons teamed up with TV director Stan Lathan and created the award winning HBO Series Def Comedy Jam, featuring renowned comedians like Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock and Chris Tucker. He then went on to create Def Poetry Jam, which won a Tony Award for Special Theatrical Events in 2003. Simmons also produced a number of films, including The Nutty Professor. He sold his share of Def Jam Records to Universal Music Group in 1999.
Radio pioneer Cathy Hughes entered the media space in 1969 when she began working at KOWH, a black radio station in Omaha. In 1973, she became sales director at WHUR-FM in Washington, D.C. She was promoted two years later to general manager, boosting station sales revenues. In 1979, she and her husband, Dewey Hughes, purchased a small Washington, D.C. radio station, WOL, creating Radio One. When her marriage ended, she bought her husband's share in the station and over time, the station became profitable. Purchasing stations in other cities, Radio One grew to become the nation's largest black-owned radio chain. In January 2004, her company launched a new cable channel, TV One, aimed at African American viewers. Today, Hughes has the distinction of being the first African American woman to head a media company publicly traded on the U.S. Stock Exchange.
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