Charese Fruge’ Talks To Deb Urbont

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on April 14, 2020

You can hear it in her answers. The passion and concern for the city she loves and its current COVID-19 crisis. Deb Urbont is currently hunkered down in Woodstock, NY where she was on spring break with her daughter Roslyn when the Governor issued the quarantine in place order. She had to make a tough call to extend their stay in Woodstock when it became clear that New York City, her city, was going to be hit hard. She’s currently balancing working from home (away from home) as the Sr.VP/Adult Promotion for Atlantic Records, home schooling a third grader and keeping a 9 year old healthy and entertained. If there is anyone with enough strength and determination to pull it off, it’s Deb Urbont. She’s a single mom living and working in the biggest city in the country and working with some of the biggest artists in the country like Ed Sheeran, Lizzo, Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, and Matchbox Twenty.

Deb started out in the business at a small independent promotion company called AIR based out of her hometown of Columbia, MD. “I was hired as a receptionist and that lasted about a week,” she says. “I immediately became an assistant to the owner, Jonas Cash, where I learned all about the business. Soon after, AIR opened a satellite office in Los Angeles and I moved there and got into promotion ‘officially.’ It was there that I got to know Andrea Ganis and her amazing team at Atlantic Records really well. In 2004 when Atlantic and Elektra merged, Andrea asked me to join her team and head up the Adult Promotion Department and I’ve been there ever since.”

One of the most exciting things Deb has experienced so far in her career was breaking Ed Sheeran’s “A Team” in the States. “I flew to Orlando to see this new artist open for Snow Patrol at the Hard Rock. I watched everyone in the room sing along to every word of his performance and the album wasn’t even out in the US yet,” she says. “After his set he went to sign merch before Snow Patrol went on stage. The entire venue bombarded him. It was mayhem! He had to climb over the waiter at the bar just to get to safety.” Deb goes on to say they had to set up a merch booth outside the venue with security ropes. “He signed for every single person that attended the show well in to the night. After that, Ed worked so hard doing promo in each city where fans were going crazy everywhere. Eleven months later, “A Team” was a top 5 record at Hot AC and the rest is history.”

No stranger to doing things her own way, Deb made one of the bravest decisions any woman could ever make when she decided she was going to have a child on her own. It’s just one of the many reasons she’s so admired within and outside of the industry. “I have always wanted children. There was never a part of my life when I thought it may not happen,” says Urbont. “When it started to look like it wasn’t going to happen for me in the traditional way, I decided to have my daughter on my own. Roslyn is a dream. She’s so smart and kind and strong and beautiful. I am truly the luckiest mom and wouldn’t have done this any other way,” she says. “It takes a village with sitters, nannies,etc. but it’s gotten easier as she’s gotten older. I think working in the city makes it easier for both of us. The city is one big neighborhood and I’m not the only single mom so it’s nice to have support and know there are other family dynamics out there just like us.”

When I asked Deb what the most important thing she wanted Roslyn to learn in life was, her answer gave me the chills. “Always be kind,” she said. “Find love, stick up for yourself, be strong…and there are no limits to what you can do!” That’s great advice from a mom. It’s also great advice from a colleague, mentor or friend, and to Deb, it’s important to be all of those things when it comes to women in our industry. “From the first time a new assistant walks into the building, I’ve always taken them under my wing, guided them through the politics and helped them find their strengths and weaknesses,” she says. “I’m still learning every day and continuing to better myself. We are lucky at Atlantic to be full of wonderful leadership that happen to be women. Julie Greenwald, Chairman and COO of Atlantic Records, is an incredible leader and has surrounded herself with strong amazing and powerful women.”

Speaking of, I asked Deb what the first thing that comes to mind is when I say Atlantic Records Promotion President Andrea Ganis? “Maverick, mentor, ceiling breaker – motivator and empowers her people, inclusivity. I have always admired Andrea for her consistent leadership and ability to maintain the highest level of tranquility no matter what. She has the ability to manage politics like no one I’ve ever seen and has a way of making everyone feel good about it in the process,” says Urbont. I think most of us in the industry can agree with that.

I think most of us in the industry can also agree that what we are going through right now with COVID-19 is one of the most challenging things we’ve ever faced. “It’s so scary as we all try to stay safe and away from our friends and family and colleagues,” says Urbont. “It’s given the industry a whole new creative way of thinking though. A few of the things our artists are doing; setting up Instagram Live interviews and virtual performances, having Alexa be the driving force for listening. The ideas keep coming and perhaps will set the tone for our ‘new normal’ once we figure out what that is,” she says.

So what’s in power rotation on Deb’s “Stay Sane” quarantine playlist? “I’m really enjoying the new Weeknd album. Alec Benjamin has some great new music out and I’m also introducing Roslyn to REO Speedwagon after an Ozark episode on Netflix that reminded me how much I love them…ha ha.”

For now her immediate focus is making sure she and Roslyn stay healthy. “We’re balancing between getting her online assignments together and scheduling calls that don’t conflict, while finding time to breathe and exercise in between,” says Urbont. “It’s much harder now more than ever. But it’s bringing us even closer and we’re making great memories – we’re making it work and that’s all that matters.”

Follow Deb Urbont on Instagram @durbo3 and Facebook @ Deborah Urbont