iHeartMedia’s Bob Pittman, Rich Bressler, John Sykes and Tom Poleman were presented with the Music Visionary of the Year award by UJA-Federation of New York at the organization’s annual luncheon in New York today before 700 of the industry’s top executives — and raised some $1.6 million for the UJA in the process.
While the event is always warm and festive, the entertainment is the highlight: Past years have featured performances from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, H.E.R. and many others — and this year the crowd was treated to two songs each from young singer-songwriter Jade Bird, country hitmakers Dan and Shay and fast-rising soul singer Lizzo.
It would be an understatement to say that many in the room would be eager to please the iHeart execs: the company operates the largest radio network in the U.S. Pittman (pictured above) is its chairman and CEO and was a cofounder of MTV; he has also been CEO of MTV Networks, AOL Networks, Six Flags Theme Parks, and other organizations. Bressler is president, COO and CFO of of iHeartMedia and iHeartCommunications and was previously managing director at the Boston-based private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners. Sykes is president of iHeart’s entertainment enterprises and was also a cofounder of MTV, president of VH1, CEO of Infinity Broadcasting (now CBS Radio) and president of Chrysalis Records. And iHeart veteran Poleman is the company’s chief programming officer and previously oversaw Z100/New York.
Above: Dan + Shay (Michael Priest Photography)
After some opening remarks from iHeart on-air personalities Angie Martinez and Bobby Bones, Jade Bird performed two songs solo, accompanying herself on piano and acoustic guitar. Dan and Shay performed two songs, finishing with their hit “Tequila,” which they thanked iHeart for supporting and helping to make it the hit it’s become. Shay ended the song on an impressively long-held note.
Next, Martinez introduced an artist she’s “obsessed with,” soul singer Lizzo. The singer tore through the title track from her recently released album “Cuz I Love You,” and then was joined onstage by three of her dancers for “Truth Hurts.” She dedicated the song to the iHeart execs, clarifying that the kiss-off portion of the lyrics “aren’t dedicated to you — they’re dedicated to some other men, but the rest is for you!” While the song got off to a rousing start, whatever technology gremlins dogged her sets at Coachella seemed to have followed her to UJA, as about half of the backing track mysteriously dropped out mid-song. Thankfully Lizzo seemed not to notice and carried, and the sound balanced returned after about two minutes.
Above: Jade Bird (Michael Priest Photography)
The ceremony wound to a close after veteran MTV exec Judy McGrath — who worked for many years with Pittman and Sykes — introduced the quartet, who were hilariously photoshopped as Avengers — as “rule benders and rebels,” and “the good guys you want in your corner.”
Pittman took the stage — “we’re gonna spare you four speeches” — and spoke of how honored they all are to receive the award, and briefly but graciously thanked their colleagues, the UJA and the people in the room. In a nod to past years at UJA, which can sometimes run uncomofortably long, he looked at his watch and said, “Are we really out of here before 2 p.m.? We win!”
Above, left to right: Judy McGrath with iHeartMedia’s Bressler, Pittman, Poleman and Sykes (Michael Priest Photography)
Last year Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and global head of creator services Troy Carter were honored at the UJA luncheon (although the former did not attend and the latter, who did, left the streaming giant six weeks later). Past recipients of the award include Sony Music CEO Rob Stringer, Universal Music Group executive vp Michele Anthony, and Republic Records founders Monte and Avery Lipman, among others.