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Debra Lee

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Information about Debra Lee

Profile image of Debra Lee

Profession

Category:
MediaMakers
Occupation(s):
Media Company Chief Executive

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Orange
Favorite Food:
Lamb (Leg)
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Miami, Florida
Favorite Quote:
The people are no better than the folks.

Birthplace

Born:
8/8/1955
Birth Location:
Fort Jackson, South Carolina

Profession

Category:
MediaMakers
Occupation(s):
Media Company Chief Executive

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Orange
Favorite Food:
Lamb (Leg)
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Miami, Florida
Favorite Quote:
The people are no better than the folks.

Birthplace

Born:
8/8/1955
Birth Location:
Fort Jackson
See how Debra Lee is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Media company chief executive Debra L. Lee was born on August 8, 1955 in Fort Jackson, South Carolina to Richard and Delma Lee. In 1972, Lee graduated from Greensboro-Dudley High School and later moved to the East Coast where she attended Brown University. During her junior year, Lee spent a year studying abroad in Southeast Asia in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. In 1976, after receiving her B.A. degree in political science with an emphasis in Asian politics, Lee attended Harvard University. She simultaneously earned her M.A. degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and her J.D. degree from Harvard Law School in 1980.

Shortly after, Lee moved to Washington to complete a clerkship with the late Honorable Barrington Parker of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In 1981, she worked at the law firm, Steptoe & Johnson, as a regulatory lawyer. Five years later, Lee joined Black Entertainment Television (BET Networks) and created its legal department. During her tenure, Lee has played pivotal roles in the company's history, including executive vice president and general counsel of the legal affairs department; corporate secretary; and president and publisher of the publishing division. In 1996, Lee became president and chief operating officer; and, in 2005, she was named chairman and chief executive officer. During her tenure, BET enjoyed some of its most explosive growth in ratings, revenue and popularity. She led the network's evolution beyond its successful music programming into original movies, documentaries, concert specials, news, late-night talk shows and public policy coverage. Lee has also substantially expanded investment in marketing, advertising, digital, research and development.

Lee has been regarded as one of the country's top female executives and served on the corporate board of directors of global businesses including Marriott International, Revlon and Eastman Kodak Company. She has also been affiliated with several professional and civic organizations including the National Board of Directors for National Symphony Orchestra, the National Women's Law Center and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Lee was also named Trustee Emeritus at Brown University, her alma mater.

Lee’s honors include the 2001 Woman of the Year Award from Women in Cable and Telecommunications and the 2003 Distinguished Vanguard Award for Leadership from the NCTA, a first for an African American female executive. Outside of the cable industry, Lee has also received special recognition, including the 2005 Madame C. J. Walker Award from Ebony magazine for best exemplifying the entrepreneurial spirit of the pioneering Black businesswoman.

Debra L. Lee was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 5, 2012.

See how Debra Lee is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Debra Lee's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Debra Lee lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Debra Lee talks about her mother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Debra Lee recalls her early childhood in Germany
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Debra Lee discusses her parents' ancestries
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Debra Lee talks about her father, Richard McLeish Lee
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Debra Lee talks about her siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Debra Lee describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Debra Lee talks about her grandparents, and living in Germany during the time her father was stationed there in the U.S. Army
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Debra Lee describes her childhood experience in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Debra Lee describes her childhood experience in Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Debra Lee recalls the Watts Riots in Los Angeles, California and attending an integrated school
  • Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Debra Lee talks about her relatives who also lived in Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Debra Lee talks about her family's decision to move to Greensboro, North Carolina, and her father's retirement from the U.S. Army
  • Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Debra Lee describes her experience in Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Tape: 1 Story: 16 - Debra Lee describes her experience in elementary school in Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Debra Lee describes her experience at school in Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Debra Lee talks about being influenced by the Civil Rights Movement
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Debra Lee describes her social life in school in Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Debra Lee describes her childhood interest in music and television
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Debra Lee describes her desire to become a lawyer and her interest in journalism
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Debra Lee describes her experience at James D. Dudley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Debra Lee talks about the part-time jobs she had in high school
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Debra Lee talks about the environment at James D. Dudley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Debra Lee talks about riots at James D. Dudley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Debra Lee talks about participating in "Save the Black School Days" at James D. Dudley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Debra Lee talks about her father's support for integration of the schools in Greensboro, North Carolina, and her opposition to integration in high school
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Debra Lee talks about the integration of her James D. Dudley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina, and applying to colleges
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Debra Lee describes her decision to attend Brown University, and her early experience there
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Debra Lee talks about her parents' separation and the de facto social segregation at Brown University in the 1970s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Debra Lee talks about her positive academic experience at Brown University, but being discriminated against in Providence, Rhode Island
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Debra Lee talks about her academic studies at Brown University and her parents' support of her studies
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Debra Lee describes her experience on a study-abroad program in Southeast Asia
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Debra Lee describes her cultural experience in Southeast Asia, and the perception of Americans there
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Debra Lee talks about returning to the U.S. from Southeast Asia, applying to law schools, and her decision to attend Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Debra Lee talks about her decision to pursue a law degree at Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Debra Lee talks about her trip to Boston to attend Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Debra Lee describes her experience in Boston, Massachusetts in the late 1970s, and as an African American female student at Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Debra Lee describes her experience in her first year at Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Debra Lee talks about pursuing a dual degree at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Debra Lee talks about finding her niche as a dual degree student at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Debra Lee discusses her decision to accept a clerkship with Judge Barrington Parker
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Debra Lee talks about Judge Barrington Parker, her clerkship with him, and her experience as a clerk in the Washington, D.C. court system
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Debra Lee describes her experience at the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, D.C., and her desire to pursue communications law
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Debra Lee describes her decision to accept a position as general counsel at Black Entertainment Television (BET)
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Debra Lee talks about her decision to leave Steptoe & Johnson LLP to join Black Entertainment Television (BET)
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Debra Lee talks about her marriages and her early years as general counsel at Black Entertainment Television (BET)
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Debra Lee talks about the staff, revenue and programing at Black Entertainment Television (BET) in the early years
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Debra Lee talks about her involvement in the construction of BET's studio in Washington, D.C. and the birth of her first son, Quinn
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Debra Lee talks about her growing responsibilities at BET as general counsel, corporate secretary and publications in-charge, as well as BET going public
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Debra Lee talks about her involvement in taking Black Entertainment Television (BET) public in 1991, and in launching 'YSB' magazine
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Debra Lee talks about the preparation and challenges involved as Black Entertainment Television (BET) went public in 1991
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Debra Lee talks about becoming the chief operation officer (COO) at Black Entertainment Television (BET)
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Debra Lee talks about Black Entertainment Television (BET) going back from a public company to a private one in 1998
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Debra Lee talks about Black Entertainment Television's (BET) talks with Viacom in the early 2000s
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Debra Lee talks about Black Entertainment Television's (BET) goals and revenue in the early 2000s, and Viacom's acquisition of BET in 2000
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Debra Lee talks about the major complaints against Black Entertainment Television's (BET) programming
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Debra Lee talks about the African American community's reception to the sale of Black Entertainment Television (BET) to Viacom in 2000
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Debra Lee describes her experience as chief operating officer (COO) as Black Entertainment Television (BET) transitioned into a division of Viacom
  • Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Debra Lee talks about her daughter's birth, her father's death, and her bosses at Viacom
  • Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Debra Lee talks about becoming the chief executive officer (CEO) of Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 2005 and her vision for BET
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Debra Lee discusses her vision for programming changes at Black Entertainment Television (BET) and some of the challenges that she faced from audiences
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Debra Lee talks about rebranding Black Entertainment Television's (BET) programming, and the success of their first sitcom, 'The Game'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Debra Lee talks about her decision to censor some of BET's programming in response to the audience's complaints, pt. 1
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Debra Lee talks about her decision to censor some of BET's programming in response to the audience's complaints, pt. 2
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Debra Lee talks about Black Entertainment Television (BET)'s competition
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Debra Lee shares her views on Black Entertainment Network's (BET) growth, success, and legacy
  • Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Debra Lee talks about her involvement in the community in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Debra Lee reflects upon the progress made in the African American community, and her own life's opportunities
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Debra Lee reflects upon her experience in Grant Park when Barack Obama was elected as president in 2008, and the progress of the black community
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Debra Lee reflects upon the significance of the Brown vs. Board of Education verdict in 1954 and the integration of schools in America
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Debra Lee reflects upon her legacy
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Debra Lee narrates her photographs