A California Highway Patrol assistant chief finds a second career managing singers and songwriters
To be the toughest female cop alive, you run 3 miles uphill, climb 300 stairs, put the shot, climb ropes, bench-press, run a 100-meter sprint, swim 100 meters, and complete an obstacle course three football fields in length—eight events in one day.
Jill Angel has done that. And won. In 1988 and 1992, she captured the state of California “Toughest Cop Alive” endurance competition for women and came in second in the worldwide event in 1989.
Don’t be fooled by her 5-foot-3, 120-pound physique. She’s tenacious—and strong. For 22 years, Angel, 51, was a California Highway Patrol officer, rising through the ranks from sergeant to assistant chief in Los Angeles, overseeing more than 1,000 officers. It was a job she prized, but over time, it took its toll. She witnessed the aftermath of countless horrendous traffic fatalities and was severely beaten by a drug-addled suspect. As head of the CHP’s Critical Incident Response Team, she finally passed out at a shooting scene—partly from exhaustion. Physically, she was spent: She had high blood pressure, migraine headaches, depression, and an inability to sleep soundly.
A single mom with two young daughters, now 8 and 11, Angel realized it was time to make a change. She handed in her badge and retired. But it was the power of music that really helped her turn the corner. And now she’s in training to be the toughest music agent alive.
Angel has dabbled in the music business since 2003. It began on a whim, trying to help a coworker get her music heard in Nashville, where Angel had a younger cousin, Ilene Angel, an aspiring songwriter. While still on duty, she began making monthly trips to Nashville, landing meetings with the heads of record labels and top producers. “Being an assistant chief at the time, I was determined to get through to people at my level. They didn’t know what to do with me,” she recalls. But she scored her 10-minute face time, and it made a lasting impression.
“People told me I would meet the worst people in life in the music business. ‘They lie to you’ and so on, they cautioned,” Angel says. “I said, ‘Are you kidding? I just spent 22 years as a police officer and was a commander in South Central L.A. The music people are some of the nicest people I’ve met.'”
Believing. While her fellow staffer never did land a record deal, Angel fell in love with Nashville and her cousin’s music. “The more I listened to Ilene’s songs, the more I believed in her talent. They gave me hope, especially in the dark days after I retired.” She began pitching her cousin’s work with a vengeance.
For Angel, it wasn’t a big jump from police work to pursuing the music business full time. “Both are making the world better somehow, though the two fields couldn’t be more different in how they go about doing it,” she says. And she can afford to be patient. Angel, who splits her time between Sacramento, Calif., and Nashville, and her family can live on her chp pension, which provides full health benefits.
Since moving into her new gig managing singers and songwriters, Angel has worked with a half-dozen artists, but her biggest success to date is her cousin. Four years after Angel began peddling her tunes, Ilene’s song “I Don’t Think About It,” sung by Emily Osment, costar of the TV show Hannah Montana, hit the Radio Disney top 10, where it has stayed for over four months. It went to No. 1 for three straight weeks.
Moreover, Nashville artists including Dolly Parton, Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, Wynonna, LeAnn Rimes, and Kenny Rogers have put “holds” on several of Ilene’s songs, expressing interest in recording them. Another protégé, Angel’s nephew Matthew Angel, 17, an L.A.-based actor and singer/songwriter, is finishing his first album this spring.
In January, Angel called her mentor Dick Whitehouse, a former record label head who has advised her for four years, to tell him she and Ilene were No. 1 on Disney with Ilene’s song. His response: “Of course you are. You’re Jill.”
And that’s why she just might become the toughest agent in Nashville.