BET CEO Debra Lee Is First Woman to Win Recording Academy Industry Icon Award—And She “Won’t Be the Last”

Who brought music industry legends Joni Mitchell, Clive Davis, Neil Diamond, Quincy Jones, Britney Spears, Stevie Wonder, Russell Simmons; rising stars such as Chance the Rapper and Lorde; Apple CEO Tim Cook; Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas; and a slew of Kardashians to the Beverly Hilton on Saturday, Feb. 11?

BET CEO Debra L. Lee.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 12: (L-R) Debra Lee and Stephen Hill attend BET's Pre-Grammy Brunch at The Four Seasons Hotel on February 12, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images for BET)

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 12: (L-R) Debra Lee and Stephen Hill attend BET’s Pre-Grammy Brunch at The Four Seasons Hotel on February 12, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images for BET)

It was the night before the 2017 Grammy Awards. These stars and several others gathered at the annual Pre-GRAMMY Gala to honor Lee as winner of the Recording Academy Industry Icon award.

Lee is the first woman to win the distinguished honor.

“I won’t be the last,” she commented in her acceptance speech.

“We must persist and say ‘yes’ at a time when we are faced with so many ‘no’s,’ from bans to walls,” continued Lee. “Voices of inspiration are desperately needed to keep us moving, loving, fighting, dancing. I know someone in this room is going to write the next A Change Is Gonna Come, the next Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud), the next Fight the Power. And we need you to.”
The Icon award celebrates Lee’s accomplishments—as a business leader, brand maven, and social justice activist.

“The ability to present, promote and champion music on television is a very significant contribution to our industry and to our creative community,” said Neil Portnow, Recording Academy President and CEO, in an interview with Billboard. “Debra has done a phenomenal job with BET. She’s a trailblazer who not only knows how to lead a successful business but also a visionary and change agent.”

Lee’s mission: To “respect, reflect, and elevate” BET’s audience.

Since Lee began at BET in 1986, the network has flourished.

In a 2014 presentation at the Executives’ Club of Chicago, Lee explained the connection between creating content that empowers viewers, and sets a clear vision for brand values.

According to reporter Neal Gregus from Cision, “[Lee] pointed to the brand vision that has guided her mission since the start of her tenure at BET Networks, and has seen record increases in ratings and revenue.”

The Harvard-educated lawyer helmed BET’s programming revolution, which has included original feature-length content, including hit biopics Madiba and The New Edition Story, documentaries such as the recent Obama Legacy special, BET News, hit shows like Being Mary Jane and several award shows, including the marquee BET Awards. Along with legions of talented and dedicated employees, Lee has made BET a true powerhouse.

The Recording Academy is not alone in celebrating Lee’s formidable presence in the entertainment industry. On Feb. 12, Billboard ranked Lee 84th in the publication’s Power 100 list of top industry executives along with BET President of Programming Stephen Hill.

Lee certainly deserves recognition for her hard work and intuitive vision. We at Viacom congratulate Lee for this honor.

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