Joe Rapolla: “Living and Breathing Music in the USA…and Abroad”


When it comes to music, Joe Rapolla ’88 knows all the right notes to hit…from center stage and corporate offices to recording studios and classrooms. So, it may come as no surprise to learn that his passion for music began at an early age.

“When you called, I had a guitar in my hand,” said Rapolla who clearly practices what he preaches every day and whose passion for music seeps into how he lives his life.

Along with that innate artistic talent came a strong thirst to strategize, create and foster growth in others. Rapolla was born in the small seaside town of Belford with his brother, Danny, and sister, Marie.  After being orphaned at six, Rapolla was left mostly in the care of Danny who was 14 years his senior. From him, he learned resiliency, leadership skills, compassion and an insatiable drive to build and recreate. He has since worked hard to infuse those qualities in the people he meets and inspire others to transform and reinvent themselves.

“He was my teacher. I will forever be grateful to him,” said Rapolla who sadly lost his brother when Danny was only 49 years old. 

In 1988, Rapolla attained a bachelor’s degree from Kean, a move, Rapolla said, enabled him to get his momentum back. “I was prepared once I left Kean,” said Rapolla, who added that his best friend while in Union was a guy by the name of Tom Keane ’88!

To prepare him for more growth in the business side of music, Rapolla earned an MBA from Monmouth University two years later.

Throughout his career, Rapolla has soaked up as much business knowledge as he can about the music industry. He has worked arduously to pioneer and restructure integrated consumer marketing departments at both Universal Music and Warner Music Group. He also directed all digital marketing for a video game start-up partnered with Def Jam Enterprises and worked with top talents like Madonna, Green Day, Bon Jovi, U2, Bruce Springsteen and Sting. He has partnered with the world's leading entertainment, media and sports brands and agencies, such as Universal Studios, MTV, HBO, Apple, Sony, IPG, BMI and CBGB.

And his hard work has not gone unnoticed, having been recognized by the Direct Marketing Association with two top ECHO Awards and honors from AdAge for innovative campaign design and results.

Now, nearly 30 years since his days in Union, the New Jersey native continues to use his strong business acumen in synchrony with his compulsion to create and surround himself with music and creative people. Since 2013 he has been the chair of the Music & Theater Arts Department at Monmouth University. Shortly after taking over the new post, Rapolla rolled up his sleeves and began redesigning and updating the program, which included a new student-run record label known as Blue Hawk Records, a revamped curricula that was more modern and in line with the current digitally-focused and continually-evolving music industry and a valuable partnership with The Grammy Museum.

Now celebrating the launch of its 10th Blue Hawk record, Rapolla said, “I believe in educating the whole student. We need to create programs that are holistic and sustainable. It makes for a more well-rounded person.”

Most recently, Rapolla has expanded his outreach to the Lakehouse Music Academy in Asbury Park where Monmouth undergraduate courses will soon be offered. He was also part of developing a partnership in which the university will establish the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music. It will be the repository for Springsteen’s personal collection of written works, photographs, periodicals and various artifacts from his career.

Throughout the constantly evolving music industry, one constant in Rapolla’s life remains his personal connection to music. He is a musician, songwriter and producer. He has released three studio CDs and a film soundtrack and is part of the group, Songwriters of the Sea. He also collaborates with top writers and artists in New York City and Nashville, and continues to perform locally and abroad for both profit and non-profit groups. One of his proudest endeavors is the annual event in Asbury Park for the Light of Day, an organization that raises money for those facing Parkinson’s. Rapolla is also in the middle of co-authoring a book on the music Industry with the chairman of Warner Music Nashville, John Esposito, which is expected to be released in 2018.

But from a beach pub in Rimini, Italy, to the small-town streets of Atlantic Highlands, NJ, Rapolla always strives to do his best and never forgets to recognize how his actions and the actions of others impact social change. Stay tuned because most likely by the time you have read this, he will be doing something else new!

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