Photo: Andrew Nelles (BA ’08)
“I’ve always looked broader than just being a singer, and that’s why I went for the business management degree instead of the music degree.”
By Rea Frey (BA ’04)
Kym Mazelle grew up in Gary, Indiana, just two doors down from the studio rehearsal house of the world-famous Jackson family, so it’s no surprise she dreamed of making it in the music industry.
“I would run down the street and stick my head through the window to listen to their music and dance on the sidewalk in front of the house,” she says. “I would also bug their uncle Tim to give my songs to Michael and Jackie.”
Mazelle brought her musical dreams to Columbia College Chicago in 1983, enrolling in the Arts & Entertainment Media Management program under department head Fred Fine. “I had the most awesome educational experience on the planet,” she says, crediting instructors Chuck Suber, who ran Downbeat magazine and taught music promotion; Linda Mensch, who taught entertainment law; Willie Henderson from Motown, Stax, and Chess Records, who taught record production; and Irwin Steinberg, former head of Elektra Records, who signed Tracy Chapman and Anita Baker, and taught record deal and label management.
“We had to actually produce, write, record, budget a recording session, and get radio airplay from the recording,” Mazelle says.
The budding artist achieved her first career milestone when, after paying her dues as an intern with Jam Productions and DJ International Records, she recorded her first house music album in 1988. A year later, Mazelle signed an international record deal with EMI/Worldwide, and in 1991 moved to England, where she gained fame. “England really supported electronica/house/dance more than the states,” she says.
Mazelle’s career soon skyrocketed. Her single “Missing You,” which she co-wrote and recorded with Soul II Soul, achieved major success worldwide, including gold status in five countries. Her cover of Candi Stanton’s “Young Hearts Run Free” appeared in the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and the soundtrack went six times platinum.
Over the years, the singer many consider “the First Lady of House Music” worked with Mick Jagger and Chaka Khan. Mazelle even had lunch with Princess Diana for a fundraising event: “I was topping the charts,” she says. “She was a very kind and gentle lady who liked my songs.”
Mazelle credits her Columbia education with giving her the foundation to make it in a tough business. “What I learned that has become so valuable to me—even to this day—is that this is a business,” she says. “I’ve always looked broader than just being a singer, and that’s why I went for the business management degree instead of the music degree.”
Mazelle continues to look to her alma mater for inspiration, keeping close to her heart Columbia’s mission statement, which hangs on the wall in 600 S. Michigan Ave.: “... Columbia’s intent is to educate students who will communicate creatively and shape the public’s perceptions of issues and events and who will author the culture of their times.”
“When I came back to visit CCC after being away for a long time,” she says, “I read that statement and thought to myself, ‘I got that! I applied it. It’s all connected.’”