Pursuing Purpose Interview Series
Special Guest: Phil Thornton, Senior VP and General Manager at RCA Inspiration
“Pursuing Purpose” is a new interview series with people who are walking in purpose and destined for greatness. These persons come from all backgrounds of life; many are well-known and well-respected professionals in their respective industries. Some are household names, and others are not. But, what they all have in common is their faith in God. They are all Team Jesus! As Christ Followers, they have endured and overcome challenges and have made the commitment to dedicate their lives to walking in and living out their God-given purpose, no matter what.
Monique Baisden (MB): Phil, thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to do this interview with me today.
Phil Thornton (PT): Thank you so much for inviting me to do this. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be asked.
MB: Where are you originally from?
PT: Norfolk, Virginia is where I was born and raised.
MB: Tell us more about your Christian upbringing and who first introduced you to God?
PT: My Mother is the one who introduced me to God and the Christian lifestyle by attending church. My Mom went to church pretty much every Sunday, and I was there most Sundays with her or other relatives.
MB: What is your educational and professional background? How did your career in entertainment get started?
PT: I went to Catholic school from kindergarten to 8th grade, and then I went to a public high school. After graduating from high school, I went to Norfolk State University where I graduated with a degree in Marketing in 2003.
My professional career actually started in middle school. My very first internship (which was my introduction to the entertainment industry) was at a hometown radio station in Norfolk – WOWI 103 Jams. I started that internship when I was 12 years old. Kandi Eastman was the one who gave me my start in radio. I am very thankful to her for giving me that opportunity at such a young age. I learned so much about radio and its different departments and how they function, their relationships with different record companies, and the artists.
When I turned 15, I was still interning at the radio station and began meeting a lot of cool people on the label side. So this really prompted me to explore getting an internship at a record company. So, I reached out to Arista Records, which was a very prominent label during that time. They had a wide range of top-notch artists who were popping in urban music (Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Monica, etc.) I kept calling this one particular executive in the New York offices and practically begged him for an opportunity. He decided to give me a project to prove myself. From there I interned for Arista for a few years and I established so many great connections during that chapter of my life.
Afterward, I went to college, still knowing that I wanted to have a career in the entertainment industry. Upon graduating in 2003, I started my management company in New York (Brightstar Entertainment) and I started managing R&B singer Lil Mo and a few other music producers. In 2006, I decided to move out West as I had a desire to not only do music but to work in the television and film space as well. I landed my first reality show, “I Married A Baller”, that featured Taj George (1/3 of the group SWV) and her husband, retired NFL player and Hall of Famer Eddie George. It was one of TVOne’s first reality shows and my first TV show that I sold to a network. I also partnered with David and Tamela Mann to produce their show, “It’s a Mann’s World”, which we did for two seasons at BET, and then we did the show, “The Manns”, for one season at TVONE.
In 2012, I accepted the VP of Marketing and Business Development position at Entertainment One (eOne) in Nashville. A couple of years later, I was promoted to General Manager, and then in 2016, the wonderful people at Sony reached out and told me that they were going to be moving the RCA Inspiration division to Nashville and asked me to manage it and I accepted it.
In recent years, I have been producing more films and content for television, including a film for Lifetime, “Surviving Compton”, which was based on the life of R&B singer Michel’le. I recently produced and sold a film entitled “A Boy. A Girl. A Dream” which will be starring Omari Hardwick (from Starz’ TV show, “Power”) and actress Meagan Good, and that movie hits theaters in the fall.
When I look at my journey, it’s been a pleasure to cross paths and work with so many amazing people.
MB: When and how did you first realize your God-given purpose?
PT: A very defining moment for me was when I interned at WOWI 103 Jams and I first heard Kirk Franklin’s “Why We Sing”. It was during this time that I started truly cultivating my relationship with God and getting to know Him for myself. This opened my mind to gospel music and deepened my faith to the point where going to church and praying had a different meaning. Things started to change within me. However, it really hit me in 2011 while managing Jessica Reedy and Dorinda Clark-Cole that I was called to work in gospel music. This was my purpose and God put me in this space for a reason.
Further confirmation came in 2012 when I had an encounter with Le’Andria Johnson while I was living in Atlanta. She prophesied to me and said that God had something big in store for me – a senior level/executive position – and to be patient, trust Him and believe that it was going to happen. Not too long after that, I received a call for the VP of Marketing and Business Development position at Entertainment One Nashville, and I have been working in the gospel music industry ever since.
MB: Outside of your faith in God, who or what inspires you?
PT: My Pastor, Bishop Joseph Walker, III of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, is a big inspiration. My Mom as well. I was raised in a single parent household and she is an amazing and supportive woman of God. She is a great source of inspiration for me, both personally and professionally, and she is a phenomenal example of having strong faith in God.
MB: What is your favorite play call (scripture) and why?
PT: During this season of my life, a scripture that strongly resonates with me is Roman 1:16 (NIV):
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”
It’s such a bold declaration that describes where I am both personally and professionally. My mindset is: It’s okay to be a Christian and a believer, and I am not ashamed of being a believer in any way.
MB: So you have been the Senior VP and General Manager at RCA Inspiration for 2 years now. How does your faith in God and Christian background influence you and guide you as you fulfill your responsibilities in this role on a day-to-day basis?
PT: My faith is always with me. It’s always in the front of my mind. You have to have faith in this business because it’s not easy working in this business. Despite working in the inspirational or faith-based space within the entertainment industry, it still has its challenges, politics, and personalities.
To me, you have to have your faith, a spiritual foundation, and a church home. My Pastor and I have a great relationship and I speak to him frequently. Your faith, coupled with the right surroundings and the right circle of people – that’s super important in doing what we do in this industry. People say “stay prayed up”, which is true, but you also need people around you who are positive and encouraging to build you up, give you Godly wisdom, and an inspirational word or a scripture when you need it.
At RCA Inspiration, I feel that we are a part of making some of the best music with some amazing artists, such as Koryn Hawthorne, Travis Greene, Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, and Bishop Marvin Sapp. However, I realize that we have the responsibility to properly execute and carry out God’s vision, because it’s not about me, my marketing team, or my promo team. We’re simply vessels! To me, in order to properly do our job and honor what God has called us to do, we have to walk the walk and talk the talk. Faith has to be in you and it has to be a priority for you. It’s not just a job. It’s bigger than that – it’s a calling. This is ministry, and it’s about touching the hearts of the people and getting God’s message out there. Without faith, there is simply no other way to survive and navigate in this business.
MB: Tell me about the origination of the “Bible of Love” project and how you became involved.
PT: I’ve actually known Calvin Broadus (also known as Snoop Dogg) for several years. However, one of our former Marketing Coordinators for RCA Inspiration, Justin Tomlinson, who now works for Sony, sent me a direct message a year ago and alluded to the fact that Snoop might be working on a gospel record. I reached out to Snoop’s manager, Russell Redeaux, and asked him if Snoop was looking to do a gospel record, and he said that he would get back to me. A week later, I was sitting in a chair at the barbershop and I received a call from an unknown number, and it turned out to be Snoop. He asked me to listen to these gospel records that he had been working on, and about two weeks later, I met with him in LA and he played the records for me in a 3-hour listening session where he shared his vision and inspiration for “Bible of Love”.
He shared that he wanted to make his grandmother proud of making music that she could listen to. In addition, Snoop had the desire to be a vessel and provide a platform for gospel music artists to share the message of God and spread the good news of the gospel to the world. This is one of the reasons why I partnered with Snoop – to expand the message of gospel music and reach the younger generation and the masses of people who are outside of the church.
Gospel music is for everybody, especially those who are struggling with life issues, and who don’t know God. So, I prayed about it and consulted my Pastor to make sure I was doing this for the right reasons, and after doing so, I decided to do this because I felt this was a part of my calling and my assignment. Also, I wanted to make God proud by reaching people who may know Snoop, but don’t know God. That’s why we decided to do this. It wasn’t for the celebrity factor. It was all about ministry and spreading the gospel.
MB: What advice or words of encouragement would you give to our readers, especially those who have aspirations of getting into the entertainment industry?
PT: Faith without works is dead. You have to do the work. You have to be informed. You have to study. However, you must keep God first and trust Him. Don’t settle and don’t compromise. Also, be confident and know that this is what you are really called to do.
MB: Phil, thank you so much for your time. It has been a pleasure speaking with you today.
PT: I appreciate your consideration. Thank you for your time. This was great.
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