The City Of Hope gala is always one of the American music biz’s most high-profile, high-octane occasions. But this year’s event, which honoured outgoing Warner/Chappell chairman/CEO Jon Platt, ramped things up even further.
The October 11 Los Angeles dinner raised over $6 million (£4.56m) for the City Of Hope research and treatment centre. It was hosted by Pharrell Williams. Beyoncé gave a trademark powerhouse performance. The likes of Dr Dre, Quincy Jones, Rita Ora, Timbaland and Usher turned up to pay homage. And Jay-Z presented Platt with the Spirit Of Life award, praising his publisher as “the Obama of the music industry” before adding: “I can’t think of anyone more deserving to be prized in front of their peers, in front of the world, than my brother, Jon Platt”.
Which meant Platt’s own speech was going to have to go some to compete. Thankfully, the man who will take over from the legendary Martin Bandier at the top of the world’s No.1 music publisher, Sony/ATV, next year, delivered in a wide-ranging address. As well as praising the patients and doctors at City Of Hope and thanking his Warner family and the team that helped put the gala together, Platt addressed the changing biz landscape and his own personal mentors.
Check out edited highlights of his speech below – and stay tuned to see what Platt delivers in his new role…
“I had no idea what to expect tonight. I really walked in here blind. I didn’t see any of the videos, I had no idea what Jay was going to say. He doesn’t do what he just did and it means a lot to me, so I wanted to say thank you. I don’t know where this evening is going and I don’t know what’s going to happen up here, but I will be Big Jon again at 7am tomorrow, alright? I won’t keep you long because I also pride myself on having great self-awareness, and yes, I’ve received this amazing award, but I’m also very clear that I’m the opening act tonight.
“I want to say to Jay – for more than 20 years your genius and your friendship and your loyalty, it’s tough to find in this industry. From the bottom of my heart, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be on this stage tonight if you wouldn’t have come into my life. I just want to say thank you, for everything.
“I’ve attended this Spirit Of Life gala many times before and some people that I truly admire have received this award, but even then, when I received the call that I’d been chosen to receive it I seriously thought about not accepting it because, among other reasons, like Jay said, I really feel that my place is behind the scenes. But then I called my wife and told her about it. And before I could share my doubts, she just cut me off and said, ‘Oh, you’re doing that!’
“But I still needed it to be my decision, and I gave some thought to it. The more I thought about it, I began to think about how I could use this opportunity to have the spotlight for so many other people, and I’d be able to share it with the culture that has supported and nurtured me. And I’d also be able to shine a light on a generation of executives that I’ve grown up with in this industry who are more than ready and willing to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.
“I mean, just take a look around this room tonight. By the way, you all look amazing. It was very important for me, if I was going to do this, I told them when they came to my office when I decided to do this, I said if we’re gonna do it my way. Meaning I’m not going to be the only brother in this room. I’m going to bring all my friends with me. It was important to me that it was black tie because I wanted you to see us at our best. I want to thank all of you for supporting that. When you just take a look around this room, it’s sold out. I want you to just remember that, because I want you to remember when you make a point to not exclude anybody and actually include everybody, because when you include everybody you make it possible for a Robert Smith to come in the room and drop a $500,000 donation.
“At a time in our country when so much is broken, I think it’s important that we focus on those doing great in the world. People who devote their lives to fixing what ails us. To people that are saving lives. Over the last few months, I’ve had the privilege to meet with the people at City Of Hope, the people that give City Of Hope its name - beginning with the patients like Kommah McDowell, who you saw here earlier this evening. These are patients that are bravely carrying on throughout huge challenges in life. Then there’s the doctors, and the researchers, and the nurses. People like Dr Rick Kittles, he was on the video. Dr Kittles is so focused on the health disparities that people of colour face, and he’s so determined on this that I just know things are going to get better. Then, Angie and I also spent time with Dr Bart Roep and his team, who are passionately finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes, and that’s an earth-shaking development that will help millions of people, including my own son, Jonathan, who is sitting right there.
“He was diagnosed with diabetes nine years ago this month. So you see, like many of you here tonight, my family has been impacted by some of the diseases that City Of Hope is fighting every day. Recently I lost two close friends to cancer, Jay ‘Icepick’ Jackson and Dave Nelson. And before them, my father-in-law, Willie Willis. So when Angie and I visited City Of Hope, things got put in their proper perspective. We saw first hand the work that City Of Hope is doing and what that work can mean, not only for our family, but for all humanity. And it’s no exaggeration when I say that, at City Of Hope, they don’t know the meaning of impossible.
"Then, last week, things got real in a way that I really hadn’t planned for. As I was sitting at home, I was trying to gather my thoughts for what I wanted to say. Then I received a text message from a friend of mine, a DJ from Denver, Colorado that really taught me a lot when I was younger. He congratulated me on my success and he told me how proud he was of me. Then the message said, ‘I gotta get with the City Of Hope’. Now I read this as, I gotta get with the organisation that Jon was supporting, but that’s not what he meant. He told me he had been diagnosed with cancer and I asked him to allow me to connect him with City Of Hope. Within minutes, I was able to tell him what time the call would be, and who would be calling him. He responded with a message that said, ‘Big Jon, this is saving my life.’ That’s when I knew how City Of Hope can save a life, because in real-time I’ve been able to see that City Of Hope builds up to their name. What I’ve learned is City of Hope is more than a hospital, it’s a family. It’s a home for hope, for care, and for miracles. And with a mission like that, I take this honour seriously tonight and I’m so happy to be here to honour and support this great institution.
“But there’s another reason I’m happy to be here. As an African American CEO, I proudly embrace the responsibility to lend a helping hand to people of colour that are coming up in this industry, as well as to represent my friends and my colleagues that are already doing good in this game. I’m so happy tonight that I get to celebrate with Jay Brown and Ethiopia Habtemariam, and Larry Jackson, Jeff Harleston, Mark Pitts, Coach K and Pee, and so many others. You see because, we’re more than just athletes and entertainers. We’re CEOs, we’re cancer survivors, we’re a lot of things. That leads me to something I’ve recently read in an article about a hero of mine. A legendary civil rights activist and Wall Street businessman, Vernon Jordan. One particular quote from Mr Jordan’s article really resonated with me. He said, and I quote, ‘I am the ultimate optimist because you have to believe you can make something happen’. He goes on to say, ‘I always knew I was going to be somebody. So I concentrated on getting prepared rather than being angry, and the one thing I know is that wherever I am in life, and whatever I may have accomplished, I did not get here by myself’ end quote. I really resonated with that. See, because nobody gets to their goals alone. Nobody. And tonight is a great example of that.
“I didn’t get to this stage alone tonight. I didn’t do it on my own. So, if you’ll please bear with me, I’d like to celebrate some of the people that helped shape me and I believe make me who I am. Chuck D from Public Enemy was the one that really got me started. He put me on this path and I believe what Chuck saw in me was that at my core, I’m a dreamer. I was DJ-ing in Denver, Colorado, when Chuck told me to dream bigger. Not long after, I made my way to a music conference at Howard University where I had the opportunity to listen to a young Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs speak. And Sean said something at that conference that resonated with me. He said, ‘Don’t be afraid to close your eyes and dream and then open your eyes to see it’. I did just that. I kept dreaming. I came to Los Angeles and found some producers, one of them is here tonight, Roscoe… I started managing him and got them a publishing deal. Then I dreamed bigger, and I became an A&R for EMI Music Publishing. And then one day I saw a Newsweek Magazine and on the cover it said, ‘The New Black Power’. Pictured on there were Dick Parsons, Stan O’Neal and Ken Chenault, and I said, I want that. I want to be that. I got to work, and I dreamed of being a CEO, and then I got bold with my dreams. I’ll admit it to you tonight, I dreamed of running the largest music publishing company in the world one day, and a few weeks ago, I opened my eyes and I could see it.
“Early in my career my brother by the name of Jermaine Dupri helped me understand what this music business is all about: great songs. And they brought other people that gave me the opportunity to achieve something in my life that I’ll never forget. People like Steve Prudholme and Jody Gerson and Marty Bandier, Roger Faxon, Steve Cooper, and Len Blavatnik. I want to thank all of them. I want to thank all of you for giving me the greatest gift you can ever give anybody – the opportunity to fail. See, because I’ve made mistakes in my career before, but each of those mistakes were valuable to me because they made me better.
“I know you see me standing on this stage tonight, but just understand that it’s not lost to me, what this means for so many people in this room and people that aren’t here. What’s going on in my career, what it means for so many other people, because while you see me on this stage tonight, you’ve got to know there’s a lot of people on this stage tonight with me. A lot of them are in this room tonight, but then there’s people like Jheryl Busby, Larkin Arnold, Mickey Stevenson, and so many other people that are on this stage with me tonight. Like Clarence Avant. Clarence, I just wanted to say thank you for always being there for me. I wanted to say thank you for being the closest thing to a father that I’ve ever had.
“I’d like to thank songwriters. Songwriters who represent diversity in all its forms. As you continue to prove every day that genius does not discriminate. And when I say genius, I’m speaking about my musical heroes like Gamble and Huff, like Rod Temperton, like Valerie Simpson, like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and so many others. Timbaland is here tonight, thank you. I’m talking about geniuses like Usher Raymond, who in 2004 taught me the importance of reaching back and bringing someone along. I remember that conversation we had. I asked you for a favour for a new artist I had, that you take him on your Confessions tour, and you took Kanye West on tour with you. Thank you. Speaking about Pharrell, who shows me that true greatness never takes a day off. I want to thank you for hosting for us tonight.
“Then there’s those other geniuses. Those songwriters whose names you might not even know, but I’ll tell you – you do know their songs. Finally, I couldn’t have done any of this without my family. My mother is here tonight, and my mother-in-law. Seventy-eight years old, both of them, and going strong. I am so happy you’re here to share this with me. My beautiful wife Angie is here as well. I want to thank you for all of your support, your love, and for walking with me every step of the way on this journey to get to this stage tonight.
“My son Jonathan is here tonight, and the twins were determined to stay here and they didn’t. Clarence and Shawn are here. I want you to know that I love you more than you will ever know, and I am so proud to be your father. My brothers and sisters are here as well. I have cousins here, and some of my best friends in the world. I just want you to know that all of you have played such a big part in making this moment possible.
“I’d like to close by acknowledging two other people who are here tonight. First, the greatest producer of all time, and a past Spirit Of Life honouree, Quincy Jones. A role model who’s paved the way for many of us here tonight, myself included. Quincy once said, ‘Let’s not get too full of ourselves. Let’s leave room for God to come into the room’. Those are words I try to live by. And in our business, I think those are important words to live by. I can’t help but think how many times City Of Hope leaves space for God to come into the room every day.
“I’ve deliberately left my last thank you to Beyoncé. I’m so lucky to work with someone that inspires me the way she does. I’m so lucky to work with someone that every time I walk away from her, I say to myself, ‘I’ve got to work harder’. On a recent tour with Jay that just concluded, I’ve watched audience after audience lose their minds. My thought went to her journey, and I was reminded that, even when you’re the biggest talent in the world, it still comes down to hard work.
“You see, she leads by example, she shows all of us how to dream big, how to believe in what’s possible, but most import, how to help and inspire others. That’s the real spirit of life.”
* To read Music Week’s 2015 interview with Jon Platt, click here.