Because he wears so many hats, there are plenty of words that can be used to describe music industry executive and television producer, Phil Thornton. Ingenious. Brilliant. Ambitious. But there is one word in particular that also comes to mind: fearless. And that’s because Thornton has proven time and time again that he has the ability to confidently and consistently create projects and content that successfully goes against the grain.
Born and raised in the Norfolk, Virginia, Thornton knew that he wanted to be part of the entertainment business at age 10, and by the time he was 12, his fascination with radio landed him an internship at WOWI-FM, a local radio station. Three years later, at only 15, Thornton became an intern and rising star at Arista Records, working with Notorious BIG, Whitney Houston, and Aretha Franklin to name a few.
Thornton didn’t stop there. As a marketing major at Norfolk State University a few years later, he and a fellow student wrote a 40-page proposal to the school’s president to have the college radio station, WNSB, Hot 91.1—which could be heard all over Virginia—switched from all jazz rotation, to a hip-hop and R&B format. The president loved the idea and Thornton went on to become 91.1’s student music director, turning the station into an overnight sensation that rivaled other Virginia FM stations, and attracted celebrity guest hosts like Diddy, and at the time, up-and-coming artists like Pharrell Williams.
After graduating in 2003 and moving to New York City, Thornton started his first company, Bright Star Entertainment, an artist management/consultant firm where he represented artists such as Bad Boy Records’ GRAMMY® award-winning group 112 and singer Lil’ Mo. In 2007, Phil settled in Los Angeles and partnered with Marcus Spence and Paul Coy Allen to form the successful Ten2One Entertainment, a multimedia, television production, and artist management conglomerate. In October 2016, Ten2One along with Sony Pictures Television and Thinkfactory Media, released the made-for-TV film, Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Miche’le. The biopic, based on the life of R&B recording artist Miche’le, premiered on Lifetime Network and garnered an impressive average of 2.3 million viewers the night it debuted.
Overseeing the artist management side of Ten2One, Thornton has guided the careers of Faith Evans, Michelle Williams, Kenny Lattimore, and Mack Wilds. He was also responsible for launching TV One hits including “LisaRaye: The Real McCoy”, which set ratings records at TV One, and “I Married A Baller,” starring former NFL running back Eddie George and his wife Taj, of the multi-platinum recording group SWV. Thornton served as executive producer of TV One’s hit show “R&B Divas Atlanta,” which included cast members such as Faith Evans, KeKe Wyatt, Monifah Carter, and Syleena Johnson, as well as its wildly popular spin-off “R&B Divas L.A.,” which has featured Kelly Price, Michel’le, Chante Moore, Lil’ Mo, Chrisette Michelle, and Claudette Ortiz.
But that’s not all. In addition to running Ten2One, Thornton was recently named senior vice president and general manager of RCA Inspiration, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, where he works with a wide range of inspirational artists including Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, Marvin Sapp and Donnie McClurkin. “I am really excited about writing a new story here at RCA Inspiration,” Thornton says. Prior to his position at RCA, Thornton served as vice president and general manager, Urban Inspirational at eOne Music, where he oversaw a diversified list of Gospel, Christian, and R&B artists such as Lalah Hathaway, Erica Campbell, Michelle Williams, Shirley Caesar, Jonathan McReynolds, and Tweet. The company enjoyed much success with Hathaway’s single “Angel” (from her album Lalah Hathaway Live), which held the No.1 spot on the charts for nine weeks. Thornton still serves as executive producer on the eOne-created hit show “It’s a Mann’s World,” starring David and Tamela Mann, which airs on BET and is going into its third season.
Thornton also runs Phillionaire Worldwide Publishing/Beat Syndicate, his publishing arm that has co-written and produced records for a several artists including Eminem’s single ft. Bruno Mars “Lighters,” which garnered two BMI Awards for the Most Played Pop & Urban Records of 2011.
Thornton credits other hardworking visionaries as his inspiration growing up. “Berry Gordy, David Geffen, Quincy Jones, and Clive Davis have definitely inspired and influenced me during my professional journey,” he says. “When I look at them, they have figured out ways to not only be creative, but ways to create synergy with music, television, Broadway, and other platforms. I definitely see myself in them. I’ve been doing my part to put great content into the world, be it music, television, or film.”
Now, not only does Thornton want to continue to deliver high quality music and TV content with Ten2One Entertainment, but his goal is to also expand the company by producing more scripted projects, especially with the success of Surviving Compton. He first ventured into film in 2014 as associate producer of the movie Lap Dance, starring Omari Hardwick and Stacey Dash, and is now working on a scripted series and made-for-TV film project with Kelly Rowland. “I’m very excited about creating more film content in the years to come. Film is really my heart. It allows you to tell the story and I love great stories.”
In 2015, Thornton was named one of the 48 industry leaders chosen from across the country to participate in Leadership Music’s 27th class, an annual forum in Nashville for established music community leaders to identify and explore issues currently affecting the music industry. He also sits on several boards including the National Grammy Board and the board for the new National Museum of African American Music, which is currently being built in Nashville and slated to open in 2018. In addition to all of that, Thornton, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, is also a philanthropist and makes sure to give back to the community as much as possible. He is heavily involved with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Hope for Harvest, a Charlotte-based non-for-profit organization that provides clothing, school supplies, and necessities for underprivileged children and also feeds the homeless.
So how does Thornton find time to give back, balance his amazing, yet extremely busy career, and manage to effectively run three successful entities? “I have a wonderful team of people that help me bring everything to the finish line,” he says. “I could not do what I do, in every aspect of my career, without my team. I’ve been fortunate enough to find partners and people who share the same vision that I do.”
More than anything, Thornton feels it is God who keeps him motivated, fearless, and balanced. “Ever since I stepped on this earth I believe my steps have truly been ordered for me,” he says. “There’s no other way for me to put it. I’m fearless because I know that I’ve got God on my side. That’s why I continue to walk in faith and believe that He’s giving me the foresight and the vision so that I’m never afraid.”
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