Why She’s Amazing
Binta Niambi Brown doesn’t want to be a princess. She wants to be more.
Binta is the Founder of Fermata Entertainment Ltd. and Big Mouth Records LLC, a startup that is innovating a new business model for the music industry, and manages soul singer Grace Weber.
A former corporate lawyer at each of Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Kirkland & Ellis (where she was a partner), Binta has advised global entertainment and media companies such as DreamWorks, Time Warner, Universal, the Washington Post Co., HBO, AOL and IAC. She has robust public policy experience (having advised the White House, a former presidential candidate, several governors and US senators). She also has advised many technology companies including 2U Inc., which IPOed on the Nasdaq in 2014. She holds leadership roles in the SummerStage Music Festival (New York) and the American Theatre Wing; is a trustee or board member of each of the American Theatre Wing, New York City Parks Foundation, Barnard College, Columbia University; and is an advisor to the New York Philharmonic.
Binta is a trained musician and multi-instrumentalist who has performed internationally and throughout the United States, including Carnegie Hall and live music venues throughout New York City. She has been recognized as one of the Fortune 40 Under 40 Business Leaders, the Root’s 100 Most Influential African-Americans, Crain’s New York 40 under 40 and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. She has been featured in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Real Simple, the Washington Post, the New York Times, on CNN and on NPR.
She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. A graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University and the Columbia University School of Law, Binta was also a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Business and Government.
We had a chance to ask Binta a few questions. We think you’ll agree that her ambition is matched only by her character.
“If they did (call me princess),
I most certainly did not hear them.” – Binta Niambi Brown
Q & A
Q: When you were a young girl, what did you want to be when you grew up and why?
A: It changed. I wanted to be a tax lawyer because it sounded intellectual and ambitious; a mother, because I’ve always prized it as the most amazing job on earth and have a wonderful mother myself; but mostly, as a young musician who loved the law, I’ve always wanted to fight for others. Since I can remember, I’ve had two real passions – fighting for justice and leading an entertainment company. At one point, though, I thought I’d be a Supreme Court justice, composing music on my Bosendorfer Grand in Chambers…
Q: What did people think when you told them that?
A: I’m blessed in that no one in my family ever discouraged me from any of my dreams. Instead, my parents provided me with every resource necessary to achieve them. So long as I wasn’t breaking laws, I was good. But, they also made sure that I was resilient, would not quit, that I understood I would need to work harder than anyone else, and be extremely well prepared. My parents valued love, charity and excellence.
Q: Did people call you “princess” when you were a little girl? How did that make you feel?
A: I don’t believe anyone ever called me that. If they did, I most certainly did not hear them.
Q: How did you become interested in the law and then transitioning to politics and entrepreneurship, including launching your own record label?
A: Music and law are two sides of the same coin, and I’ve always been deeply passionate about both, perhaps music even more so. The law compels justice, it recognizes our humanity, it creates conditions for equal opportunity; and so I’ve always had tremendous respect for the law because, without advances in the law, I couldn’t have had the life I’ve had, the freedoms I’ve enjoyed. And so studying the law and fighting for justice, these are things deeply ingrained in me – especially ensuring that justice and the full recognition of human rights are available for all people. Music, on the other hand, is also essential in the advancement of humanity. Whereas the law does not permit discrimination, and thereby, compels mixing of different people in public places, music and for that matter, all of the arts, bring people together voluntarily. The arts enable us to see and recognize our fundamental humanity, our shared humanity in ways that enable us to forget our prejudices and fears. Launching a record label wasn’t something I planned to do; I knew I wanted to run a record company (and actually a media company as well), but when I started speaking to different companies, I was struck by their adherence to a model that I don’t believe works. For me, fighting for justice, advocating for artists, meant starting on my own.
Q: What did you have to do to accomplish this?
A: I just had to start and be willing to figure it out as I’ve gone along. Listen to my gut and to my parents, who’ve been a tremendous source of support and encouragement.
Q: Did you have a mentor or role model who inspired you?
A: Primarily my parents, grandparents and my Godmother. Beyond my family’s tremendous influence, I have countless mentors and role models! I’m deeply appreciative of Ann Fudge, Vernon Jordan, Sam Butler, Allen Parker – individuals who had a direct hand in my professional development. I’ve been greatly inspired by Hillary Clinton, her perseverance, resilience and preparedness. I’m heavily influenced by Prince and his approach to changing the model for musicians, Motown and its emphasis on artist development and entrepreneurism (although I disagree with its approach to contracts) and all of the early black-owned independent labels, including Veejay records, which first brought the Beatles to the U.S. I greatly admire Michelle Obama, David Geffen, Quincy Jones, George Martin, Rick Rubin, Berry Gordy, Ahmet Ertegun, Harriet Tubman and Gandhi. Oh, and Oprah.
Q: Did your family and friends support your aspirations?
Q: Did you think about being called a “trailblazer” for choosing this path?
A: Not in particular. If that’s a consequence of what we’re doing and have done, then cool. But, it’s not something I actively think about.
Q: What motivates you?
A: Making incredible music and sharing it with the whole world. Service. Love. Just love.
Q: Was there a time when something that seemed like a failure ended up being positive?
A: When one door closes, another opens.
Q: Of what are you most proud?
A: My heart.
Q: What would you like people to learn from you?
A: To never give up. To believe. To hope. To dream.
Q: What three words would you like people to use to describe you?
A: Ha. I don’t know. I try not to think about that too much. Folks will always describe you differently from how you describe yourself.
Q: What do you want people to know about you outside of your accomplishments?
A: That I am Human.
Q: Given the choice, would you do it all again?
A: What is the “it”? I’m sure some of it, I would skip. But, I also recognize and accept that there are no do-overs in life. There is just learning and continuing to move forward with love, purpose and faith.
Q: Who do you follow on social media that shares your passion for business and news?
A: I follow colleagues, artists and friends on social media. I post but, admittedly, I don’t really read my feeds.
Q: If you could eat lunch with one person, who would it be?
A: Robert F. Kennedy
Q: Which woman would you choose to have on U.S. currency?
A: Harriet Tubman
Q: What advice would you give to a girl who wants to be just like you?
A: Remember who you are and never, ever, ever quit. Resist the temptation to be defined by the expectations of others. Set your path. Read, learn, be excellent, persevere and, above all else, love – with all of your heart, all of your mind and all of your soul. Persevere in love and kindness.
- Binta is a both a morning person and a night owl.
- Her favorite concert is whenever Grace Weber is performing. Her favorite concert ever? The first time she saw Bon Iver live. It changed her world. Or, no, wait – every single one of the 15 Prince concerts she ever attended. No, Bon Iver. Definitely, Bon Iver. She’s seen over 500 live performances so that’s not an easy question.
- At any given moment, Binta is reading five books. Right now,
Gandhi, The Discernment of Spirits, Cowboys and Indies, The History of Hip-Hop
and The Book of Living and Dying.
- Her favorite quotes are “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” by Invictus along with “When they go low, we go high” by Michelle Obama.
- Binta’s go-to karaoke song is anything from Pippin, most Motown and all Beatles. But mostly, she leaves the singing to Grace.