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Skip Miller dies at 62; former Motown Records president

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Skip Miller, a Los Angeles music industry veteran who rose from stock clerk to president of Motown Records and helped rejuvenate the black music division at RCA Records, has died. He was 62.

Miller, who also managed Lionel Richie's solo career, was being treated for an intestinal infection when he died of a heart attack Sept. 4 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his family announced.

He was a Vietnam veteran with a degree in chemistry when he joined Motown Records in 1971 and was quickly promoted to various management positions in sales, marketing and artist relations.

Elevated from vice president to president in 1987, he oversaw the company during a major reorganization in which it tried to regain a leadership role in black music. But company founder Berry Gordy sold the label less than a year later.

In a statement, pioneering Motown artist Smokey Robinson called Miller "an integral part of . . . our Motown family. He was my brother, and I loved him very much. What a loss."

Miller was key "to the success of artists over all genres," including Rick James, DeBarge and the Commodores, and worked with Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and many others, said Miller London, a former Motown executive.

In 1988, Miller joined RCA in the newly created position of senior vice president of black, jazz and progressive music. Over the next seven years, the label became "an important player" in the urban and hip-hop scene and "its jazz roster continues to grow," Miller said in the Hollywood Reporter upon resigning in 1995.

Among the acts he signed were the R&B-pop trio Sisters With Voices, popularly known as SWV. When the trio accomplished a difficult feat -- placing two singles, "I'm So Into You" and "Weak," in the Top 10 at the same time in 1993 -- Miller said he was not surprised by their success.

"We were thinking the next big trend would be hip-hop with singing," Miller told The Times in 1993.

He also wrote the foreword to a 1992 three-CD set, "The RCA Records Label: The 1st Note in Black Music." The comprehensive package was RCA's first to recognize its black music artists "from the early gospel and blues eras" to "R&B and rap," Miller told Billboard magazine in 1992.

He was born Alvin Miller in 1946 in New York City, one of three sons of Alvin, a fireman, and his wife, Sybil.

After graduating from Hofstra University, Miller joined the Army in 1968 and served in Vietnam. After the war, he had connections at Motown and started his career there.

Later, he managed Richie for six years as president of Lion Tracks, beginning in 1998. More recently, Miller ran Panda Entertainment, the talent management company he founded in 2004.

"Skip was a quiet giant," said Angela Bibbs-Sanders, a friend and a vice president of the Recording Academy. "He was so generous of spirit and believed in giving back."

He is survived by his wife of 31 years, Karen "KC" Miller; his sons, Justin and Dominic; his brothers, Jay and Michael; and his mother.

Services will be held Monday at Holy Cross Cemetery, 5835 W. Slauson Ave., Culver City.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests donating to Project Angel Food, www.angelfood.org, or the Department of Neurosurgery and Neurosurgical Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, www.cedars-sinai.edu.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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