With an incredible elegance Angelo Ellerbee is one of the most well respected and hardest working public relations moguls who has and continues to shape and guide the biggest icons and legends in the music and entertainment industry. His career and his company doublexxposure has a longevity that threatens that of the Queen of England, as he evolves, reinvents himself and the future.
Beginning his career in the fashion market as a designer, Angelo styled and hosted fundraising events to combat the rising issue of AIDS, but found himself in the midst of the publicity world. His meticulous attention to detail easily caught the attention of the industry. He knew early that success isn’t about the money you make but about the way in which you touch people’s lives.
Through his orgasmic wizardry he has stormed the ramparts of success for the illustrious lions of the music industry exampling Michael Jackson, Dionne Warwick, Lionel Richie, Roberta Flack, Mary J Blige, and a cascade of others. Ultimately Angelo also served as VP of Publicity for Island Def Jam Records where he brought R&B super group Dru Hill, legend Ronald Isley (the Isley Brothers), and gospel star Karen Clark Sheppard to prominence. Also managed such talents as DMX and Laura Branigan while serving as general manager for Bloodline Records.
As an author Angelo has penned 3 best-selling books “What’s Your Excuse?”, “Ask Angelo: 46 Years of Industry Success”, and “The Sense of Success.” He also advocates for the LGBTQ community and has served as the Chairman of the Board of New York City’s “Gay Men of African Descent.”
Like the refracted rainbow of light from a shattered looking glass, Angelo acts as a canopy for the stars to shine. How he moves easily between the world of imagination and reality one inspiring the other. He uses his imagination to confront reality rather than escape it. Angelo doesn’t let his dreams get in the way of his actions. Most importantly he doesn’t let his past steal his future.
How did you first find yourself immersed in this world of PR and do you ever wish you picked a different profession?
My blessings come in disguises. My degree is in fashion design. I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. My heart always burned for fashion and style. So, I went to school for fashion design. My mother has been a force in my life. She had a ninth grade education but I always thought she graduated from Harvard or Yale because she was that smart. She always instilled into me the importance of greatness. She said “I know that you are great because you are my child, but I want you to grow to be greater.” “Then if I am not around to see, I want you to be the greatest at what you go to do.” That was instilled in me.
I lived in Paris, France for 2 ½ years from age 17 to 20. I hustled up the money to go, she said “Listen, I’m going to tell you right now, I’m going to tell you can go but you got 2 phone calls and we don’t have no money to bring you back here. I stayed there 2 ½ years, I was cooking in a soul food restaurant because my portfolio was horrible. One of the photographers came and asked me what was wrong and why I wasn’t working as a model. My whole goal of going overseas was that my mother always wanted a house. When I came back, I had enough money to contribute greatly to my mother’s house. My mother passed away in that house. Those had been my goals and it was really strange, I started doing local fashion shows by bringing in people like Carmen de Lavallade, Jeffrey Holder and the Alvin Ailey Dancers. It was really important growing up in the city of Newark, my community was starved for culture, I took it on as something I had to do.
I needed to make people understand my way about culture. Then in the early 70’s it was all about HIV and AIDS. I really started to begin to want to educate people that look like me about this epidemic, in the churches, the streets and the highways and byways, as the walls were caving in on anyone that was gay. These fashion shows I did I brought in all the celebrities that I knew to raise dollars and cents. More importantly to raise consciousness and awareness of HIV and AIDS. So, I did these fashion shows each and every single year. There were maybe 2-3,000 people that would attend. It was all the major artists coming over to Newark, New Jersey. Giving of themselves to be a part of a mission of educating.
The kids thought that they were not going to learn anything about AIDS. Before they got a chance to come into the main ballroom, we had all kinds of people in the hallways giving out booklets, and pamphlets, and talking to them and telling them about sex. That’s always been my plight, at one of these fashion shows there was a young lady by the name of Kamillie Mtume, which was the wife of James Mtume -the two-time Grammy award winner. She came to one of the shows and said, “my name is Kamillie Mtume. You may know my husband is James Mtume.” I was like no I don’t, at that time he had the biggest record in the country called “Juicy Fruit”. She said we are doing a second album and would you style the album cover for me? I said sure I would love to, and we became such good friends. I would introduce her to all the people in the fashion industry because she was a designer. One day, Mtume came to me and said, “you could do all these things for Kamillie, so you can do all these things for me”. I said, I don’t know anything about no music. He said, well maybe this is the time you’ll learn.
Every single day for 8 years I went to his home in New Jersey, and I was enrolled into his institute of learning music. He was signed to Sony, and I would go there every day. I felt so stupid because I knew nothing about the things they were talking about. I was intelligent enough to comprehend and bring back my story to him. He would sit up in his yellow house and I had to tell him each and everything that took place and what they said and he would give me answers to each and every single thing. After 6 or 7 months, someone at Sony called him and said “I think your boy got it because he was asking a whole lot of questions today and he wasn’t taking no nonsense”. Then he got his first opportunity to do his first music soundtrack for his first motion picture. It was a playwright by Richard Wright. I had the pleasure of meeting the incredible James Baldwin.
My job was to do the press, I don’t know nothing about no damn press. I went out and bought 200 newspapers. I had to ask Mtume, I said what are you talking about? He said you see that newspaper, how do you think people got in that newspaper. He gave me $100 and said go buy some newspapers and look in the entertainment section, look in the music section, look in lifestyle, and learn and that’s what I did. I wasn’t a bad writer or the greatest writer but I started to reach out to interns and that was my first job as a publicist. So,it was not the first thing that I wanted to do. As opportunity was presented to me, I took the opportunity and I am so grateful for the mentorship, the guidance and the leadership this man gave me.
That is such a cool story, I don’t think anyone wants to start by being a PR agent.
No, girl you gotta be deaf, dumb, blind and crazy.
You represent some of the most iconic superstars on the planet. What is the most challenging and the most gratifying aspects of the business for you because I know Dionne is tough.
She is, but everyone has their side that they will reveal and give to you and she gave me another lesson in learning. She taught me that this is why you don’t sit down at a desk and say this is what you do. She allowed me to experience her way of life, her way of doing things. Taking me from event to event. Introducing me to people like Diahann Carroll, Diana Ross, Berry Gordy. She had the kind of ability that if you were a friend of hers, she was going to turn around and introduce you to her crowd of people. Her mother and I got along extremely well. We would talk each and every single day and she gave me the behind the scenes of Dionne Warwick. She would tell me the kinds of things that I should do and I shouldn’t do. I don’t look at anything as being difficult. She can be a strong personality, but I never take it personally. When I do take it personal, I address the situation because no matter who you are you are going to respect me. I tell people you have fans all around this world, but I am not a fan. I work with you, and I work for you and that’s just how it is.
With Dionne, with Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, it goes on and on I established a rapport, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, I established a rapport of no nonsense. My menu in life is to do what God has given me the ability to do which is to teach me and give me a chance. I don’t think that anyone should be counted out over their lifestyle. I remember my first meeting with Mary J. Blige at the beginning of her career. She came to me. I think she had a 12 o’clock appointment and she got there at 1 o’clock, downstairs from my office on 7th avenue there was a Carnegie Deli and at a certain time of the day you can’t get that coleslaw and that was what I desired all morning long. She was an hour late, she came up the elevator and said “Is Angelo here?” I looked at her and said,” Angelo’s here”, she said “I’m Mary J. Blige” I said “I’m Angelo Ellerbee, I prefer Mr. Ellerbee, so what we are going to do is, we are not going to do this today. She was an hour earlier the next day.
We developed a relationship that first day because what I created was a 24 week artist development program. I taught diction, speech mannerism and things that their mothers and fathers didn’t do for them. That’s what Mary came to me for. Not as a PR client, as an artist. My next oldest sister had 3 children, she was addicted to drugs. So we had to raise her 3 children so I took on the responsibilities of my 3 nephews. One of my nephews in my session with Mary had gotten shot 9 times in the back. They called me while I was with her and said they knew I didn’t want to be interrupted but my sister got on the phone and told me what happened. I couldn’t stop because they were paying me good money, but don’t think I am heartless. We were working on sitting in a chair and looking at the video and she said, “Why don’t you listen to people’s music?” I said, “Cause I don’t sell music, I sell talent. My job is to give you the stuff you don’t have. Some of the graces and charms.” She asked me to listen to her single” My Life.” The lyric went, If you could see what I see, now remember 3 minutes before this that my nephew had died. I started crying, she said “What’s wrong?” I told her and she said “Why you still sitting here?” I said “Girl we gonna sit here until this session is over.”
She started to tell me about her father not being around during the divorce, and this is her challenge and what she is going through. We developed a relationship. Then we went into interview techniques. After I made her go through these things, now this girl is an Oscar nominee and selling records 34 years later.
So what I do is not serve instant coffee, I serve brewed coffee. Some of the things I think this Urban community has been deprived of is the education of the music industry. The music industry is supposed to be a platform where you can go and grow but the first 3-4 years of your career you are being ripped off left and right. Once you have that understanding you have to prepare yourself for the rest of your career. You have to become stable, and relevant and you have to stay relevant. These are the things that I nourish with all of my clients.
One of the things I want to point out in this interview is that it was difficult for me as I grew in the music industry. Particularly because I’m gay. I’m so gay, I’m never going to hide me being gay. I didn’t get jobs because I was gay. That was the fuel that kept me going. I said if you keep your eyes out of my bedroom and put them in the boardroom, you’ll see how smart I am. I used to do the damage control and when Michael Jackson was accused of the little boys, I did damage control. I had a chance to look at this whole Chris Rock and Will Smith thing and it saddened me because it destroyed a whole legacy he created. I will say this: whoever the PR company is, they didn’t do their job. There was no damage control. It just kept rolling on and on. A lot of times people are only there for the money and not caring about the talent.
The official website for doublexxposure media relations may be found at https://www.dxxnyc.com
Interview by EILEEN SHAPIRO