March 19, 2010 / 11:38 PM / 10 years ago

Songwriter Harrell expands his hitmaking business

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Just three months ago, Thaddis “Kuk” Harrell was standing onstage at Los Angeles’ Staples Center accepting the song of the year Grammy Award for Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” with co-writers Chris “Tricky” Stewart and Terius “the-Dream” Nash.

Now the Atlanta-based songwriter/arranger/vocal producer is celebrating another milestone: the launch of his own label.

Suga Wuga Entertainment is up and running with its first signing: sister act Calvillo, comprising Emma, Angelique and Dominique Calvillo. Due later this year, the group’s debut album will be released through Interscope.

Harrell describes the sisters — ages 20, 17 and 15 — as the “modern-day Wilson Phillips,” referring to the harmony-rich pop/rock female trio that scored three No. 1 singles in the early ‘90s.

Despite the relative lack of success of girl groups in the post-Destiny’s Child era, Harrell declares the timing is right for Calvillo.

“I’m not concerned because I know we have a legitimately talented group,” he says. “And over the years this industry has proven that you can never deny real talent. And I think we’re back at the place where the consumer really wants to hear good songs. Look at Lady Gaga: She’s doing great records and everyone is gravitating to that. And I know we have that in these girls.”

Through his other business venture, production company Suga Wuga Music, and his RedZone Entertainment alliance that started in 2004, Harrell has worked with a number of today’s top hitmakers, including Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Sting and Rihanna, for whom he co-penned “Umbrella.” He also co-wrote Leona Lewis’ “I See You,” the closing song for the film “Avatar.”

In the midst of launching Suga Wuga Entertainment, Harrell found time to produce the vocals on teen sensation Justin Bieber’s upcoming second album. The pair also worked on Bieber’s debut, “My World,” including the track “One Time.”

Harrell and the RedZone team recently finished four songs for Katy Perry’s forthcoming album, and he’ll be going into the studio shortly to work with Jennifer Lopez, who recently signed to Def Jam. In addition, Harrell is taking his production act overseas, collaborating with several U.K. artists including Alesha Dixon, Charli XCX and songwriting duo Xenomania (Brian Higgins and Miranda Cooper).

“I never want to stay in one zone,” Harrell says. “I’m always ready for a new challenge.”

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