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 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 also interned at Mad Rhythms, a hip-hop and R&B magazine where he interviewed celebrities such as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Monica.
After graduating from Norfolk State University in 2003 and moving to New York City, Thornton started his first company, Bright Star Entertainment, an artist management/consultant firm where he represented Bad Boy Records’ GRAMMY® award-winning group 112 and singer Lil’ Mo. In 2007, Thornton 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 Think Factory Media, released the made-for-TV film, Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Miche’le, which 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 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 the network, and “I Married A Baller,” starring former NFL running back Eddie George and his wife Taj of SWV. Thornton also served as executive producer of TV One’s hit show “R&B Divas: Atlanta,” as well as its wildly popular spin-off “R&B Divas: L.A.” In addition to that, he was executive producer on the eOne-created hit show “It’s a Mann’s World,” starring David and Tamela Mann, which originally aired on BET, but returned for its third season on TV One. In 2018, Thornton and his team celebrated an NAACP Image Award win for “Outstanding Reality Series” for the show.
But that’s not all. Thornton serves as 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, Travis Greene, Marvin Sapp, Donnie McClurkin, and Koryn Hawthorne. The label, which was named 2018’s top gospel label by Billboard, received an NAACP Image Award for the soundtrack of the hit show “Greenleaf,” on the OWN network. “I am so proud of the growth and progress we’ve made at RCA Inspiration,” says Thornton. “It has been so exciting to make the label a destination for all things faith.”
In 2020, Thornton orchestrated a history making and uplifting performance at the virtual BET Awards’ by Kane Brown (RCA Nashville artist and the first African American male country artist to appear on the show) and gospel star Jonathan McReynolds (eOne), who sang “People” and “Worldwide Beautiful.”
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 and R&B artists such as Shirley Caesar and Lalah Hathaway, whose album Lalah Hathaway Live won three Grammy awards.
He credits other hardworking visionaries as his inspiration growing up. “Berry Gordy, Sylvia Rhone, David Geffen, Quincy Jones, Sean “Diddy” Combs, 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, across different platforms.”
Thornton has a bunch of exciting television projects in the works, including a series slated to air on OWN – The Oprah Winfrey Network in the fall of 2021. He is also collaborating with several production companies, including Swirl Films and Think Factory Media.
Not only does Thornton plan to keep delivering high quality television content and music, he also wants to keep focusing on film. In 2018, he executive produced the Sundance picture A Boy. A Girl. A Dream: Love on Election Night, starring Omari Hardwick and Meagan Goode, as well as the movie Same Difference, starring Essence Atkins and Terrence J., which was screened at the 2019 American Black Film Festival (ABFF) and is currently being streaming on BET+. He also served as executive producer for the film Death of Telemarketer, starring Lamorne Morris, which was also screened at ABFF in 2020. “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,” he says.
Thornton is also excelling in the podcast arena. His show, We Sound Crazy, which is in its second season and focuses on R&B and hip hop and has drawn a large, loyal following due to its amusing, fresh spin on music. The entertainment impresario’s work has definitely not gone unnoticed. In 2019, he received the Stellar Honors Hall of Fame, which honors remarkable achievements in gospel music (past honorees include President Barack Obama Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams), and also accepted the Living Legends Award from the Living Legends Foundation.
In addition to all of that, Thornton, an active member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., is also a philanthropist and gives back to the community as much as possible. He is heavily involved with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Hope for Harvest, a non-for-profit organization that provides clothing, school supplies, and necessities for underprivileged children and also feeds the homeless. Thornton currently sits on the boards of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee and the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville. In 2020, he spearheaded the Nashville chapter of Sony Music Group’s taskforce for diversity and inclusion to address social injustice and continues to be an active and passionate leader of the team.
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. “I love what I do, and this is my purpose. 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.”