Universal Music Group’s General Counsel, Jeff Harleston, was awarded the 2020 Entertainment Law Initiative Service Award in Los Angeles on Friday (January 24).
The award recognized Harleston’s contributions to the legal community through his work on MusiCares, TJ Martel and the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, which assists R&B artists who were active from the 1940s through the 1970s.
Universal’s global Chairman & CEO, Sir Lucian Grainge, introduced Harleston and presented a tribute video that was narrated by Common.
In the 22 years of ELI presenting the annual award, Harleston became the first African American to receive the honor.
Addressing attendees, Harleston noted that in June he will have worked for Universal for 27 years.
He said: “As I reflect on my almost 27 years in this business, there is one thing that’s clear about the music business: the constant is change. Change happens all the time. That’s why I’ve stayed at one company for 27 years — why not, it keeps changing. As Lucian referenced, the continual evolution of our business coming out of disruption has been remarkable. What we have to do and what we have learned to do — and the music business is a model that no other industry has experienced or has represented quite as well — we have learned to deal with change.”
“We need to embrace change in our companies, we need to embrace change in our law firms, we need to embrace change in our institutions.”
Jeff Harleston, UMG
He added: “Change is hard. It can be abrupt, it can be unexpected, it can be painful but it’s important and it has to happen. We have learned to adapt. We have learned concepts like transparency. And how important that is and we have worked to incorporate that. We don’t need to just embrace change in our business. We need to embrace change in our companies, we need to embrace change in our law firms, we need to embrace change in our institutions. Embrace is really the word. Because only through change will we continue to grow and evolve.
“The only reason our business is strong today is because we figured it out. We didn’t run from it, we didn’t stick our head in the ground, we figured it out. I stand here today on what I believe is the 22nd ELI lunch, I believe I am the first African American to be honored. Five or six years ago Julie Swidler was the first woman to be honored. We are examples of change, of evolution.”
In his tribute to Harleston, Sir Lucian Grainge said: “UMG would not be the company it is today without Jeff’s insights, instincts, and expertise. Jeff is so much more than just a brilliant attorney with an ear for talent and a mind for business: he’s also a man who never forgets that – beyond any transaction – it’s ultimately the artists who matter most. As Jeff knows, it’s their talent… and their work… that actually inspire fans from generation to generation.”
He added: “Jeff has always been a champion of emerging voices. It’s why he always invests in building long-term relationships. And it’s why, even in the toughest negotiations, he always seeks to find a win-win for everyone.
“But Jeff’s contributions extend far beyond UMG. He mentors. He volunteers. Of course, Jeff does all this very quietly, which makes today’s award for distinguished service all the more meaningful. Jeff, you are a true mensch.”
[Pictured: Jeff Harleston at the ELI event being presented his award by Sir Lucian Grainge. Credit: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for the Recording Academy]Music Business Worldwide