RCA Records' Cathy Carroll: Inspired by Music, Driven by Faith [Video]

Cathy Carroll Q and A: Inspired by Music, Driven by Faith

Cathy Carroll is a name that is familiar and respected among top-level radio and record executives in the music business. A Chicago native, she rose from working street promotions and building relationships to breaking music for some of the biggest names in the business.

Her passion and drive from working a night shift — nearly three decades ago at a phone company to a part-time assistant at a major record label — sealed the deal in her incredible journey.

For the past six months, she has become acclimated in her role as the national promotions director for RCA Inspiration, which boasts Gospel artists Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond and Travis Greene.

Q:What is your personal background and how did your family foundation support your journey?

A:I grew up on the South Side of Chicago on 83rd and Rhodes in Chatham.  I attended Faulkner, which is a private grammar school, and then I went to Longwood High School. My parents were both hard-working people. My mother worked at the post office. She stayed there for 33 years and retired. My dad worked for United Airlines; he was a skycap and threw bags. They just really worked hard.


Q:How did you start out in the business?

A:I got in the business by trying to help and manage R. Kelly. That was during the 1980s. He was 17 when I met him. Obviously, my managing skills weren’t that great, but I did have a great artist. We always supported him through his journey for six years, prior to being signed to Jive Records. During that time, I learned a lot and had a good relationship with the Stepney family. Charles Stepney was a big producer for Earth, Wind & Fire. Through Charles Stepney’s family, I met then-record reps John Hall  Jr. and Kirkland Burke.

From there, I worked my way into the business. Charles “Chuck” Arrington gave me my first shot as his assistant at MCA Records. I was still working at the phone company. I was going to work at MCA in the morning and working at the phone company in the evening. I would leave the job and go to the clubs around midnight —dealing with the DJs.

Q:Were there many female reps back then at the time?


A:At the time, James Cochran, a VP at Motown Records, gave Pat Edwards a position and Cynthia Johnson moved from LA to Chicago. I remember hearing women’s names like Sara Melendez, Sylvia Rhone, Cheryl Winston and Dina Davis who worked at record companies. There were a lot of female reps back then.

Q:When you were working with Chuck Arrington, what were some of the things that you were responsible for to get the music out here?

A:Chuck hired me to become their street team rep. Where I really made my name with the Juice soundtrack  — where he starred. I took that campaign and it was all over the city. I really did a lot for that project. That’s how I got recognized. My day-to-day was calling program directors. At the time, the label had Patti LaBelle, New Edition, Gladys Knight — they were all on MCA at the time.

I was calling program directors and eventually, I got to know a few Midwest programmers, and that helped me get my job at Epic Records two years later.

There was some rejection up to that point. In fact, I had applied for so many labels, by the time I interviewed with Epic, I figured it would be the last time. Because Epic was, by far, the best and most established label out of all the ones I applied for. I thought, if I didn’t get on to the other labels, I figured I wouldn’t be hired by Epic. God had other plans for me. I even applied for Def Jam and the VP there said I was too “nice” to work records (she laughs).

Q:What people don’t get is the multiple hats that one had to wear during that time when they were working records — explain the difference between what reps had to do within the Black Music Division versus their Pop counterparts?

A:First, let’s start at the top. The Pop departments always had the most money.

They had the most resources to draw from,  and I’m not trying to take away from them because they did the work. My Pop counterpart at the time, she had triple the stations than I had, but she had a lot of help working with her radio stations. I had to do more grassroots stuff marketing with the Black Music Division — you always had to do grassroots marketing.

Back then, we had to call retail stores to get sales reports because they didn’t have Soundscan. We called radio stations because they didn’t have BDS/Mediabase. You had to call the stations in your markets, you had to visit them, and you had to set up interviews in the market. Not only with radio, but also with press and media. We had Ebony/Jet, Chicago Defender — Earl Calloway certainly gave me carte blanche. So, you had outlets, these Black outlets that you had to go. Anything we could really find, we took the artists around everywhere as opposed to the artist coming to one spot and everyone coming there.

Q:Even now, do you find your role being the national promotions director for RCA Inspiration challenging since you started in the business 30 years ago?


A:The challenge now, in 2017, is completely different than the 1990s. There’s not even a comparison. The music industry has evolved over the last five years.

Right now, we’re looking at Spotify, Vevo — all these digital platforms, and everything is streaming. To break a record now, they put it on these outlets and see where it goes from there and then you take it to radio and say, “Hey, this is what’s happening.”

On the Gospel side, there’s more streaming; however, we take a lot of our artists to churches to minister.

Pictured l-r: Cece Winans, Donnie McClurkin and Cathy Carroll

Q:How did you take the leap from working from secular and mainstream music to the Gospel side?


A:I owe my Gospel career to Debra “Snoopy” Hanna. She’s the one who dragged me into another lane. I worked for her for one year when I got a call from a friend who worked for Tom Joyner’s company, Reach Media, in Dallas. They needed an Affiliate’s Relations person for the Gospel shows. She knew how hard I worked and I had already worked Gospel. I knew the radio programmers.

There are entities other than radio that we also must concentrate on, so for me there’s been a great learning curve to meet and talk to people.

Q:As a working female in the business, where’s the balance?


A:I feel that I have a blessed life. I’m happy. I go to church every Sunday, unless I’m out of town. My spiritual life has been a big part of my progress. I feel my connection with God. He has looked out for me. I attend New Life Covenant on the South Side of Chicago.

I also love to cook. In fact, I lived with my cousin for two years when I came back to Chicago. Her husband owns Hecky’s in Evanston. As much as I love to cook, I’m not a consistent one. I also like to travel and I have great friends, and family. On occasion, I travel to Lafayette, Louisiana, where my mother’s family is from, so I try to stay connected. There, I love the food, the culture and knowing my family is there.

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