Tom Draper, whose tenures at RCA and Warner Bros. Records helped lay the foundation for today’s black music industry, died Oct. 25 in Atlanta after a short illness. Draper was 79 years old. A memorial service is being held today (Nov. 1) at H.M. Patterson & Sons in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Pat Shields, a partner in the multimedia entertainment firm Black Dot and a former VP of marketing at Warner Bros., remembers Draper as “a gentleman, a diplomatic warrior, a shrewd marketing executive and a kind soul. The music industry owes him a debt of gratitude.”
Born and raised in Detroit, Draper attended the University of Detroit, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He was selling washers, dryers, televisions and refrigerators for RCA Appliances in neighboring Taylor, Michigan when he met Harvey Cooper in 1970. That meeting proved fortuitous. Cooper—a fellow Detroit native and VP of promotion for RCA’s record division in New York—moved Draper into sales at the label. Draper later segued into promotion for RCA’s newly established black music department and was subsequently promoted to VP of A&R.
Draper exited RCA in 1975 to join Warner Bros. Records as VP of marketing and promotion. During his 12-year stint, he helped the label become a leading force in black music with a roster that included Prince, Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, the Staple Singers, Ashford & Simpson, Bootsy Collins and Larry Graham, among others. Moving to Time Warner as a VP in 1987, Draper later retired in Panama City, Florida before relocating to Atlanta. His industry career is documented in the Tom Draper Collection 1970-1998, which can be found within Indiana University’s Archives of African American Music & Culture in Bloomington, Indiana.
A proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Draper also supported various social causes including the Children’s Defense Fund and the Institute for Black Parenting. He is survived by his nephews Clifton O. Southard and Edward Draper, nieces Lynette Southard and Tiffany Gunter, grandniece Sidney J. Demings and grandnephews Miles Demings, Malcolm C. Demings and Ryan Gunter.