Women of Live Hall Of Fame: Debra Rathwell

Executive Vice President of Global Touring & Talent  | AEG Presents

“She brings no ego to the job and by doing so has become a legend in the business.” — Jay Marciano, Chairman & CEO, AEG Presents

WOL: 2023 | Impact 50: 2019

Debra Rathwell is one of the most successful and highly regarded executives in the live industry. Her illustrious Hall of Fame career is a reflection of the live industry’s evolution itself. Along the way, she helped build the careers of legions of artists, titillated millions upon millions of fans and forged lifelong relationships.

“Debra Rathwell is one of the most extraordinary women in the music industry,” says CAA’s Carole Kinzel (also a Pollstar HoF inductee). “She is one of the most intelligent, intuitive, and hardest working executives I have ever had the honor of being associated with. Debra started out in Canada being one of the first women to dominate in concert promotion arena, and she continued to flourish after her move to New York. She has been a mentor to both women and men and always had a great eye for talent and a great ear for artists.”

Rathwell, for over two decades, has also had a profound impact at AEG Presents.

“Debra’s commitment to putting the artist first is the cornerstone of her storied career,” Jay Marciano, chairman and CEO of AEG Presents, said. “She brings no ego to the job, and by doing so has become a legend in the business. The live industry as a whole is better for her being in it, and we at AEG Presents specifically are a better company for having had the good fortune to work with her for over 20 years.”

In global terms, too, Rathwell’s left an indelible impression on the live business. “In this amazing industry certain people stand out and shine brightly through great successes and challenges we all face,” Barrie Marshall MBE of Marshall Arts said. “Debra is remarkable… We always have a wonderful time working with her – particularly on Elton John’s ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.’”

Long before all the plaudits and record-setting global tours, there was the small remote Canadian town of Low, Quebec. “We grew up very poor. We didn’t have any money for anything,” Rathwell said in a “Promoter 101” interview, “but we were able to run wild and use our imaginations.”

Perhaps it was her vivid imagination (and love of reading) that led Rathwell to Ottawa’s Carleton University and an executive assistant’s gig working for Harvey Glatt at Bass Clef, where she became a concert manager. The first shows she promoted was the prog act Weather Report and folk duo The McGarrigle Sisters, which got her hooked on promoting.
In 1982, Rathwell jumped to Donald Tarlton’s DKD Entertainment in Montreal. The Canadian promoter taught her the business while working with major acts like The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Celine Dion, Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen and Rush.

She relocated to NYC in 1994 to work at John Scher’s Metropolitan Entertainment, running concert bookings before decamping in 2002 to AEG to open its New York City office. There she worked tours by artists including Billy Joel, Elton John, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, JoJo Siwa, Tame Impala and Lorde, among others.

Rathwell has stories for days, hanging with The Police at University of Montreal, drinking beer with U2 at a club in Ottawa, seeing a young Radiohead in Albany, working the mudfest that was Woodstock 1994.

In 2019, Rathwell was named EVP of AEG’s newly-created Global Touring and Talent department. Recent tentpoles include the record-setting Elton John “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour” as well as runs by Journey/Def Leppard, Heart and Justin Bieber.

“It’s continually inspiring to come to work every day surrounded by such talented artists and co-workers,” said Rathwell, who still clearly loves what she does. “I’m looking forward to what’s to come.”