Meet music's most powerful woman: Ghana's Bozoma Saint John

Billboard has released its 2016 Women in Music list. Sitting atop the list of 100 most powerful executives is Bozoma Saint John, 39, head of global consumer marketing, iTunes/Apple Music.

Bozoma St. John. Photo: Fast Company
Bozoma St. John. Photo: Fast Company

At Apple’s annual world wide developer conference (WWDC) on 13 June 2016, Saint John announced an Apple Music overhaul and the internet resounded with buzz at the sight of a black woman on a stage previously the preserve of white men. But before that intoduction, the self-proclaimed badass had been a recognised name in the entertainment industry.

At 14, Bozoma moved to the US from Ghana along with her family. Her father was a clarinetist who served in the Ghanaian army and earned his college degree in the US. She went on to graduate from Wesleyan University with a degree in African studies and English. Thereafter, she worked at the fashion brand Ashley Stewart and the advertising agencies Arnold Worldwide and Spike DDB.

It was while at Spike Lee’s SpikeDDB that she worked with several celebrity clients, including Janet Jackson and Beyonce. She went on to run the music and entertainment marketing group at Pepsi-Cola’s North America division, where she remained for about a decade. While at Pepsi, she worked on five separate marketing deals with Beyonce, including a $50 million deal with Pepsi sponsoring the artist’s 2012 tour and 2013 Super Bowl halftime performance.

In late 2013, St John suffered a person tragedy as her husband passed away from cancer. She was then personally recruited by Jimmy Iovine from Pepsi Co. based on her experience in music marketing to head marketing for Beats, the startup he owned with Dr. Dre. She took the job and started a new life with her daughter in Los Angeles. It was this that led to her present position at Apple after Beats Music was acquired by the tech giant three months after she resumed at Beats.

Tiffany Warren, a senior vice president and chief diversity officer at the advertising and marketing company Omnicom group describes Saint John as a unicorn in Wired. “When you’re an African American woman, and in a very senior role, we talk about how when we walk down the hall, people ask, ‘Wait, did I just see what I saw?’ Because it’s just so rare,” Warren said.

“Pop culture and entertainment can be dismissed as surface but it’s not,” Saint John said in an interview with Fortune Magazine. “It’s the language we all speak and it’s the connection point between people all over the world.”

In her time at Apple, Bozoma has been responsible for such marketing campaigns as ads featuring music stars Taylor Swift and Drake; and the viral ad directed by Ava DuVernay and featuring Mary J. Blige, Kerry Washington and Taraji P. Henson, which premiered the 2015 Emmys and focused conversations online about women, race and their participation in the industry, helping Apple music to 17 million subscribers as reported by the company in September 2016.

"We’re cutting down forests and trying to look through the trees,” she said to Billboard about the Apple Music executive team's project. “We’re trying to transform something that seems complex and scary into the most exciting and inviting party you’ve ever been to, and you'd be a fool to miss out.”


 

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