This week on In Black America, producer and host John L. Hanson, Jr. speaks with Dyana Williams, a veteran radio and television personality, music industry professional, member of the Board of Directors of the National Museum of African American Music, and co-originator and co-founder of Black Music Month.
Intro Music [00:00:08] The In Black America theme music, an instrumental by Kyle Turner.
Announcer [00:00:15] From the University of Texas at Austin, KUT Radio, This is In Black America.
Dyana Williams [00:00:23] Would you like to? This month was established June 7th, 1979, and declared so at the urging of the Black Music Association, which is no longer in existence. But then President Jimmy Carter had been asked by Clarence Evans, the Godfather and numerous other people to host an event for the members of the Black music community. And it was a performance. That day was a picnic style event at the White House. I had the honor that day of sitting with Kenny Gamble and President and Mrs. Carter and their daughter Amy. So that was really exciting. It was my first visit to the White House. But that day we asked President Carter to acknowledge the African-American music industry, to recognize that Black music not only was a tremendous cultural lightning rod, but also an economic engine that is exported all over the world.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:01:18] Dyana Williams, radio and television personality, music industry, professional journalist, celebrity coach, member of the Board of Directors, National Museum of African American Music and co originator and co-founder of Black Music Month. This past June, we celebrate the 41st anniversary of the American Music Appreciation Month, first introduced on June seven of 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. When it was Black Music Month, President Barack Obama renamed a national observance as African-American Music Appreciation Month. Created to recognize and celebrate the influence of African-Americans have had on the music industry is produced to honor the many artists, writers, song and albums that have inspired music lovers and shaped American pop culture. Had it not been for Williams effort, this celebration would not have happened. I’m John L. Hanson Jr. and welcome to another edition of In Black America on this week’s program, Black Music Month and the National Museum of African American Music with Dyana Williams In Black America.
Dyana Williams [00:02:30] One of the people who’ve been at the forefront of documenting and sharing Black folk contributions in America. You’ve got to see what our wonderful curators have done are doing in Nashville with the museum. I did a hard hat visit. Let me tell you a little story. After a board meeting, I went with Henry Hicks, the CEO of our museum, to a hard hat visit, and I cannot tell you the level of pride that I felt walking through this still under construction facility. But seeing the vision, knowing the vision from our countless hours of board meetings and conversations and fundraising events, I cannot wait to take my 86 year young mama in the fall to Nashville to walk her through our history. Our museum will document our contributions culturally in America, starting in the 1600s right to this day.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:03:28] Dyana Williams is a mover and shaker. She has been a constant force in the entertainment industry for over four decades. The Harlem, New York native began her career at WHUR FM Howard University’s campus. She later returned home to W Beale Film after making history as the first African-American woman to join an on-air team in Rock radio. At WRQX FM where she then landed her first on camera position as an entertainment reporter on Parade and magazine, which aired on Washington, DC. CBS affiliate WUSA. In 1980, Williams made Philadelphia how she accepted an on air position w DHS AFM. Williams has been a news and entertainment reporter for Black Entertainment Television and a music consultant for VH one’s The Soul of VH one. Along with her ex-husband Killing Gamble and broadcaster Ed Wright, she helped establish June as Black Music Month. Recently In Black America spoke with Dyana Williams.
Dyana Williams [00:04:38] Born in Queens, raised in the Bronx and Harlem in Puerto Rico. I am passionate about Black culture, specifically Black music. I’m a mother. I have three grown children, very grown. I spoke to them last night and we were laughing because I’m like, Y’all are old and grown. And I’m also a man of a five year old young man who is smart and very opinionated and keeps his mama on her toes. I think that kind of concisely, you know, I’m a broadcaster, I’m a Black music activist and I love God and a life that summarizes me perfectly.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:05:21] Speaking of activism, I’m assuming that you were in Philadelphia during the 1980s.
Dyana Williams [00:05:27] I was actually moved to Philadelphia in 1980. I started coming here in the seventies. However, 1980 is when I moved to Philly full time and was on the radio at a heritage station, which is still pretty major in the community. WP 105.3 But I moved here because I had fallen in love with Kenny Gamble, who is my co partner and the creator of June Black Music Month. So yes, and after we broke up in the nineties, I remained in Philadelphia with him. We raised our children together, so. But my mother tells me, John, that I was conceived in Philadelphia when my father was stationed at the Navy Yard. So I’ve got deep Philly roots.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:06:16] Having lived in Philadelphia doing some of his infamous times. What are your thoughts about the current events happening today?
Dyana Williams [00:06:24] I’m thrilled to see young people and our allies peacefully protesting. It is our First Amendment right to articulate our discontent with the level of ongoing, consistent, sustained racism, police brutality and many more ills. Ironically, it’s happening during the coronavirus pandemic going on worldwide. But I admire the courageousness of everyone who was fighting the good fight to bring some equity and parity to our existence in this in this world, specifically in America.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:07:05] How did you get to the point that we need to celebrate Black Music Month in June?
Dyana Williams [00:07:12] Well, June Black Music Month was established June 7th, 1979, and declared so at the urging of the Black Music Association, which is no longer in existence. But then President Jimmy Carter had been asked by Clarence Avant, the Godfather, and numerous other people to host an event for the members of the Black music community. And that was the performance. That day was a picnic style event of both the White House. I had the honor that day of sitting with Kenny Gamble and President and Mrs. Carter and their daughter Amy. So that was really exciting. It was my first visit to the White House, but that day we asked President Carter to acknowledge the African-American music industry, to recognize that Black music not only was a tremendous cultural lightning rod, but also an economic engine that is exported all over the world. So this was the original idea of Kenny Gamble. And really he started thinking about this period of time, concentrated period of time, where we could celebrate the outstanding contributions of people past, present and the generations to come. So this is our 41st anniversary. Somewhere in the country there is some kind of Black Music Month event going on all the digital platforms services from Tidal to Apple to Spotify to Black Music Month campaigns, as well as most of the major record companies, independents and major corporations have also started chiming in and recognizing that Black music is America’s indigenous music, and it belongs to all of us. John, Even though it is created by Black people and I’m talking about all genres hip hop, jazz, R&B, soul, gospel, spiritual, all of that rock emanated from Black folk in America.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:09:16] Talk to us about some of the artists that came out of Philadelphia International Records.
Dyana Williams [00:09:22] Mm hmm. Well, Kenny Gamble, his partners Leon Huff and Thom Bell, remarkable men who did not go to the Wharton School of Business. But what they did was built a multi-million dollar record company and have given us music that is indeed the soundtrack to many of our lives. They signed artists such as Phyllis Hyman, Patti LaBelle, The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Note, Teddy Pendergrass, who came out of Harold Melvin and the Blue Note Gene Kahn. Oh, that’s the one. Zell, who also I should mention, John, was the head of the orchestra for mother, father, sister, brother. And let us be at the White House that day. There was also a performance. Billy Eckstine, Chuck Berry, one of the architects of rock and roll, Sara Powell, Andre Crouch and Evelyn Champagne. King performed that day under the direction of Dexter Wenzel, who was also a. Artist, Philadelphia International Records. Let’s see. People’s choice. Oh, my goodness. So many artists. I feel like I’m leaving some out. But it was a major roster, long forgotten world. But yeah, there were a lot of major artists on the roster and Gamble and Huff and Tom Bell did a lot of the soundtrack to America. You know, you had Motown in the Sixties, but then in the seventies, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Tom Bell just dominated the top of the record charts and Black airwaves and other airwaves throughout the seventies and eighties, and they still get airplay. So, yeah. Philadelphia International.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:10:59] Records. If you’re just joining us, I’m John L. Hanson Jr. And you’re listening to In Black America from Country Radio and speaking with Dyana Williams radio and television personality, celebrity coach, member of the board of directors, National Museum of African American Music. And we’re also talking about Black Music Month. Dyana, talk to us about what was going on in Memphis in your 2002 when they were talking about putting the African American Music Museum together?
Dyana Williams [00:11:31] Well, I would tell you, John, I was not a part of those discussions in 2002. But I do know that a group of people who were committed to I think initially the museum started off as a Black history museum for Nashville, but a group of people very passionate and committed about culture and Black culture in particular started the process of fundraising. And at some point, the direction changed to become music. Nashville is, you know, John is Music City and known primarily for country music, although there is a long legacy of gospel as well as soul music, R&B out of Nashville as well. And so, in fact, I would say the first Black music ambassadors from the United States to travel to Europe and elsewhere were the fifth Jubilee Singers. And that was we’re talking back in the 1800s, a long time ago. So Nashville has a rich music history as it pertains to Black music. So at some point, the direction change and the decision was made to make the museum related to Black music in all genres. And since that time, we have raised $60 million. We still have a few more money into raised, and we’re going to be constantly raising money for this endeavor. But we are very excited because we are very close to the opening of the doors of our museum. And I’ve been on the board for a few years now, and prior to that I was on the advisory board of the museum. So I’m also the co-chair of the Music Industry Relations Collective. It’s a group of people from Gail Mitchell, who is a senior Black editor at Billboard magazine, to Robyn Lyon, who is the founder and CEO of Baller Alert, which has millions of followers. So I have an aggregation of music industry super stars who are also supporting our efforts in Nashville to get the word out to the community about this 56,000 square foot facility. John, you’ve got to come. Please accept my personal invitation now, because you, as one of the people who’ve been at the forefront of documenting and sharing Black folks contributions in America, you’ve got to see what our wonderful curators have done are doing in Nashville with the museum. I did a hard hat visit. Let me tell you a little story. After a board meeting, I went with Henry Hicks, who’s the CEO of our museum to a hard hat visit. And I cannot tell you the level of pride that I felt walking through this still under construction facility. But seeing the vision, knowing the vision from our countless hours of board meetings and conversations and fundraising events, I cannot wait to take my 86 year young mama in the fall to Nashville to walk her through our history. Our museum will document our contribution culturally in America, starting in the 1600s right to this day. So all genres of Black music will be represented. So and subgenres as well. So, John, I know you love our culture and our history. You will feel a tremendous sense of pride to come to the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, and if people want more information, they can go to Black Music Museum Board. To learn more about our movement and we invite you to join as well. We have memberships starting at $25, and it’s a small price to pay for the amount of information and. As you know, John, knowledge is power. So people will come out of that museum with a tremendous amount of power and information.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:15:29] I was looking at the layout in person. I heard that I was looking at the layout of the museum. There’s a pathway that actually takes you through the different genres. Wade in the Water Cross Rogue’s Gallery, A Love Supreme Gallery. One Nation Under the Groove and the Message Gallery. Who came up with the concept. I guess that’s the question I want to ask. When you are having those discussions, well.
Dyana Williams [00:15:56] We have a great curatorial team, which is some dynamic people who have submitted their. First of all, we have Dr. Portia Mosby, who formerly was at InDyana University and created this tremendous repository of Black research and music. So she is an ethnomusicologist and one of the foremost on planet Earth. So we have an aggregation of brilliant minds, knowledgeable people. Dr. John Fleming, who when you ask, who are the people who are orchestrating those galleries? I’ve got to give direction and I’ve got to give credit to those individuals because they are some of the people who have participated in creating these tremendous galleries that you just mentioned. But if people go to the Black Museum, like Music Museum Board, they can learn more about our movement and see our galleries and some of our collections because we have an incredible collection of artifacts, some that have been donated. Our curators have literally combed the ends of the earth to get items that will be on display in our galleries. You just mentioned.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:17:09] When did you realize you had this gift for broadcasting?
Dyana Williams [00:17:12] You know, I wanted to be a jazz musician of flowers. When I was 16, 17, I studied with the legendary musician Jimmy Keith out of Philadelphia. I studied in Harlem, where I grew up as a teenager, and then I met Hubert Laws. And when I heard him play, I was like, There’s no way in the world I’m ever going to be able to play like that because I had an appreciation for the music. I just didn’t have the talent. So I went to City College in Harlem when I graduated out of high school and went in as a music major, that’s where I discovered I was honey. Terrible, because when it came to jazz, it was my jazz improvization class that made it crystal clear to me that I needed to find another career. So one day I was invited to the radio station. I didn’t even know we had a radio station, KCRW. It was a carrier current station, meaning that the signal only went in the immediate campus area. But my campus was on 138th Street in Compton, in the heart of Harlem, West Harlem. And so that was significant for me later, because I did fall in love when I first walked into the radio station with the turntables, the microphone. I bet, Jon, you probably had a similar experience as a radio personality. And I knew I was home. Yeah, I knew that was for me because I could incorporate my love of music, my knowledge of music, especially American classical music, which is what Nina Simone referred to as jazz that white people call jazz. But I got my own show. I started booking artists to come and perform like Gary Bartz, Uber, Bauhaus, tons of people. But radio then become became my path. And that was in 1960. I graduated from high school in 1971. I started this radio show in 1972. And then one day I was invited to do a public access show for a new cable outlet called Teleprompter. And I did. I started doing TV as well. And this was all while I was in high school. But my first job was offered to me by Bob Michael Terry. You may have seen in the movie, Talk to me. He offered me a job at 96.3, which you are, which is the original quiet storm station. And that format founded by my best friend, Cathy. So long answer to your short question, but that’s how I got into radio and television, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:19:39] Talk to us about TV one unsung.
Dyana Williams [00:19:42] TV, one unsung. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in this broadcast. In fact, was 28 when it first started. And I also have colleagues that produced the episode on Teddy Pendergrass that season. We want an image of Ward. So I was very proud to be part of that group of producers who brought that meaningful, substantive television programing to audiences around the world. So Unsung is one of my favorite. When when I get the call from Mark Roland, who is I call him the father of Black of Unsung series, when he calls me and says, okay, we’re doing so-and-so and we’re doing so-and-so. Most of those artists, John, my friends, the people that I was involved with because I’ve been on the radio for so long, I have played most of the artists that we showcase on Unsung. So I love the affiliation because it is directly linked up with my mission as a Black music activist. So love sharing documentary form is also something that I favor and. And an honor to be a voice on unsung all of these many years.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:20:55] Tell me about your relationship with Cathy Hughes.
Dyana Williams [00:20:58] How much time do you have, Don? Cathy Hughes is I met Cathy, who’s in 1973, and she is I have I have a great group, an inner circle group of friends, male and female. But Cathy is the queen bee and everybody knows it. She is my best friend. She is. In fact, she I’ve given her power over my estate and anything that has to do with my finances. Well, of course, she has her own money, but she is a broadcast dynamo and we have supported each other and nurtured each other with each other’s biggest fans. But we have worked together on and off since 1973. I have great admiration for her, her vitality as an American broadcaster and entrepreneur. I don’t think she gets enough credit for what she has done, who she is as a company that’s 40 years young. Let me keep that 40 years. But not many Black businesses and certainly not generational businesses that have been in existence as long as urban one. Cathy had a vision. I remember when she expressed her desire to own a radio station and now some 50 something radio stations later, syndicated broadcast TV network, interactive one that houses many of our online portal. I’m proud of her. I’m proud to have a friend who is one of the strongest, most committed Black people I’ve ever encountered in my life. And again, we’re cut from the same cloth, which probably explains our friendship. I just absolutely adore her. That’s my baby girl. But let me just tell you this, John. Every Sunday we do a Zoom call with one of our other girlfriends named Yuko Broyard. We call it the Queen’s Counsel, and we cover the waterfront and talk about politics. Our children, our men. Everything. Everything. We confide your secrets. We laugh, we gossip. We do everything. And I love Cathy for that, too. She’s just. She’s a staple in my life. And one of the strongest inspirations other than my parents and my grandparents. And everybody should have a chance to meet her before they leave the planet. She’s remarkable. What if And I love my allowance. I love it.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:23:18] However, the person’s coach thinks.
Dyana Williams [00:23:20] Yes, I helped develop media strategies for high profile people. The majority of my clients, past and present, are in the music industry. However, I’ve worked with actresses, actors, directors, athletes. I worked with Roy Jones, junior heavyweight boxer. I worked with Allen Iverson some years ago, of course, one of the greatest ballplayers of all time. So my roster of artists, my company and the field influence entertainment people can visit influence entertainment dot com to learn more about the company and the artists that I have worked with. But what I do, John, is I help these artists develop their strategies for what they want to share with the media. As you well know, the basic tenets of journalism are who, what, where, when, why and how. And you would be surprised that even high profile people can’t always articulate. That’s when I get the phone calls. I also have done crisis with someone who many people know T.I. for. I worked with T.I. for eight years during his tenure at Atlantic Records, and as you know, he was in and out of jail for gun charges. And so I worked and did crisis with his publicist, Sidney Marcus, and from Atlantic Records. So, yeah, I’ve worked with Rihanna. Mary, Mary, I just a plethora of artists. Faith Evans. I coached most of Puffy’s artists with him when he had Bad Boy. I started his label. So it’s helping artists navigate the currents of their public persona. It’s probably the simplest way to explain it to you. So, yes, I work with a lot of talent.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:24:58] I am glad you you went with that last sentence. Our artists today understanding there’s two words in show and business. There’s the show, but there’s also the business. And they have a better understanding of what the industry is really about.
Dyana Williams [00:25:16] You say, do they understand now? Many of them don’t come to me, for instance, with my young hip hop artist, because I work with a lot of hip hop artists as well of this generation. I’ve worked with Meek Mill, PNB Rock. The list is long. Trina Little can many, many hip hop artists, but I give them a book called The Big Payback, written by Dan CHARNAS. It’s about the history of the rap hip hop gang. So I’m really big on educating my clients. I tell them that you must know what happened before and to understand why and where you. Why now? And to have some kind of inkling of what the future will look like. So I’m real big on I browbeat my clients into learning and I tell them, as I mentioned earlier, knowledge is power. And the more knowledge and information you have that cannot be taken away from you, it makes you a more powerful individual. And I also talk to them about they are their brand and they are entrepreneurs. Some of them never consider the fact that they are entrepreneurs or that they themselves represent their brand. That’s part of what I do as a celebrity coach and strategist. So, yes, I am big on education for all my clients.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:26:28] Before we end this interview, Deanna, talk to me about your mom and grandmother.
Dyana Williams [00:26:33] Oh, that is beautiful. My grandmothers, my mother, Professor Nancy Newman is a retired college professor. Ten years, many years. She taught at NYU Hunter College, the University of Puerto Rico. However, she retired from Jersey City State University. Public Health Nursing was my mother’s lane. She also was part of the team that did the hip hop laws that many of us find when we go to the doctor. So I’m very proud. She was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is stunningly beautiful at 86. She is without a doubt the most vibrant person I know. And I love her. And she is she is my closest confidant, my mama, my world, my grandmothers, beautiful women, my mother’s mother, Puerto Rican as well. She was an honorable homemaker who taught me Spanish. I learned Spanish before I learned English. And she was a strong, strong matriarch from my family and my father’s mother as well. From Culpeper, Virginia.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:27:33] On television personality, music industry, professional journalist, celebrity coach. Member of the Board of Directors, National Museum of African American Music and co originator and co-founder of Black Music Month. If you have questions, comments or suggestions that she future In Black America programs, email us at In Black America at kut.org. Also, let us know what radio station you heard us over. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast and to follow us on Facebook. You can hear previous programs online at kut.org. The views and opinions expressed on this program are not necessarily those of the station or of the University of Texas at Austin. Until we have the opportunity again for a technical producer. David Alvarez I’m John L. Hanson Jr. Thank you for joining us today. Please join us again next week.
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