|The Ultimate Destination for Soul Music
|DYANA WILLIAMS: CELEBRITY STRATEGIST, CO-FOUNDER OF IAAAM AND RADIO BROADCASTER
|WITH A DIVERSE INDUSTRY CAREER NOW IN ITS FOURTH DECADE, DYANA WILLIAMS HAS CONSISTENTLY BEEN A PIONEER AND UNSWERVING ADVOCATE FOR THE PROMOTION, PERPETUATION AND PRESERVATION OF BLACK MUSIC IN ALL ITS MANY FORMS. THE CO-FOUNDER OF IAAAM, A MUCH-LOVED RADIO PERSONALITY, A CELEBRITY STRATEGIST AND THE 'MOTHER OF BLACK MUSIC MONTH,' DYANA SHARES HER JOURNEY WITH DAVID NATHAN...
Dyana Williams headshot, photo credit: Whitney Thomas
Interview recorded May 29, 2012
David: There are times in us choosing who we’re going to honor at Giving R-E-S-P-E-C-T (which of course we started a few months ago at SoulMusic.com) where we have a long list and Michael, my partner at SoulMusic.com and I go over the list and we look a the names and we think, ‘wow, all the people that deserve to be recognized for their contribution to soul music and to the foundation, the growth and development of the genre,’ and it’s not easy because we could probably do one of these every week if we had the resources to do so. So, choosing who we are doing for this series is sometimes a little challenging, but what I use is my own personal barometer of people that I’ve had the privilege to interact with, work with, and when I was looking at the list, I saw a name and I said, ‘Well look, there is no question that this particular individual has made a major contribution to our music, to its growth and development over the years in many different ways’ …. and I’m proud to say that it is someone who I can also call a friend. So, we’re going to get into the story in a moment, but let me welcome to SoulMusic.com, and to Giving R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Ms. Dyana Williams.
Dyana: David, it is my honor to be on SoulMusic.com. I have admired you, Michael, and the site probably since its inception.
David: Well, now, there may be some of you who are listening who won’t know anything at all about Dyana. I am not going to tell you about her, I’m going to let her tell her own story and as we go on, you’ll hear how she’s developed, what she’s done, but I will say just as an intro, my association with Dyana goes back probably to the inception of the International Association of African American Music, IAAAM, as it was known, and that would be in the ‘90s. And, I may have known of her before that, but I certainly did know her and we got to work very closely during the time period of the inception, growth and development of IAAAM and then subsequently in many different other ways - Dyana as a major broadcaster in the Philadelphia area also as a media coach throughout the music industry…. there are just too many ways our paths have crossed and so we’re not going to get into all of that, but that’s just a little summation for those of you who are about to hear Dyana’s story. So, let’s just kick it off. And at different times during the course of this, I’m going to ask Dyana to share with us a song, a track, a soul music recording that in some way is the soundtrack for the specific aspect of what she’s telling us about her life and journey and the world of soul music. So, just for the purposes of information, where are you from? Where were you born? I don’t need to know the year, but-
Dyana: It’s all good, I don’t have any problems with that! Yes, I am a native of New York. I was born in Queens, I was raised as a small child in the Bronx and then later lived in Puerto Rico for a period of time. My mother is Puerto Rican; I’m half Puerto Rican. And then, we returned to the United States after my parents divorced, and what a blessing - my mother chose to move us to Harlem and that’s where I spent my defining teenage years and what an awesome cultural place to grow up in as a teenager! I was exposed to so much and it was there that I took up the flute and I studied with the great jazz musician Jimmy Heath at a program called Jazz Mobile.
I studied at IS 201 when I was 15, so I wanted to become a professional jazz musician as a result of my studies with Mr. Heath, but David, I lacked the pure creative talent necessary to be a musician! I even went into college, I went to City College in Harlem on 138th street and Convent Avenue as a music major, but boy did I have to change my music fast. I improvised, I could barely read music. I have so much respect for real musicians, songwriters, producers, people who can take an idea, put something together and make it infectious and engaging. So, I changed my major to broadcasting after somebody invited me to the radio station one day and that changed my life because it became a situation where I fell in love with the turntables and the microphones and because I knew so much about music I said, ‘here’s a way to incorporate my breath of knowledge with music and my ability to talk and my passion for people. ‘
David: Now, just to back track a little bit so we get some context. What era are we talking about? Are we talking about the late ‘60s, early ‘70s?
Dyana: We’re talking the early ‘70s. I graduated from high school in 1971, so it was the early ‘70s when I studied with Jimmy Heath, actually a little earlier and then my freshman year at City College was in 1971. So, actually 1972 is when I first became involved with radio as an announcer. I became a DJ on our college campus radio station and then I took over the radio station and became the music director because I have leadership abilities. The gift God has given me is one of leadership and being bossy, as so many of my friends, my children tell me!
David: So, how was that first experience for you as a radio broadcaster on the college campus? How was it?
Dyana: Amazing. It was an amazing experience. I was destined to do radio. Everybody has special gifts and how you come to it is an interesting process, but as I said, I came to it through my desire to be a musician and when I came to the realization that that wasn’t going to happen, the day that somebody invited me to the radio station, I literally walked in and it was like the clouds parted and the sun rays started shining and it was like, ‘this is what you’re going to do’ and it was, it just fit me like putting on a glove that fit. So, I knew from the very beginning and my show was very successful. I did a jazz show because jazz is what I really loved. I wanted to be a jazz DJ initially.
But what I also did was a I took over the student budget. Most colleges have a budget for producing concerts and bringing in speakers and I availed myself of that budget and I brought in everybody from Gary Bartz to Hubert Laws, but what I also did on my radio show, was I invited jazz musicians to come to the campus and I did interviews. So, one day I got a call from a gentleman who said, ‘We listen to your show on 125th street.’ It was a public access channel for teleprompter cable, infancy of cable television period. And we’re talking about Manhattan because my school was based in Harlem. So, they asked me would I be interested in doing what I did on the radio, but in front of a camera. And that was the birth of ‘Ebony Moonbeams,’ a TV show that I wound up doing for another year and it gave me on camera experience and I also learned how to produce, book, I did everything because it was one camera and it wasn’t a big operation, but I was on TV in Manhattan and I was 19. I’m sorry. I was 18. But, yeah, that was the beginning of my interest in television and music.
David: And now, is there a song, are we at a point yet where we need to include a song that would reflect that time period?
Dyana: 1971 Marvin Gaye released “What’s Going On”. That song touched me in a way, well, actually you know what? I’m jumping ahead. Let me go back. Minnie Riperton, “Come to My Garden”. That was an album produced by Charles Stepney and when I heard her voice, she had a five-octave range, she was enchanting. I did my homework; she was part of a group called the Rotary Connection. I was familiar with “Black Hole Of The Sun.” But her first solo project was produced by Charles Stepney and it was one of the most enchanting pieces of music that I’ve ever heard so we start with “Come to My Garden”.
David: Okay, well, let’s play it. This is Minnie Riperton, “Come to My Garden”, produced, as Dyana just said, by Charles Stepney. For those who may not know, Charles Stepney was also very instrumental in the early recordings of Earth Wind and Fire, working side by side with Maurice White and I believe on the first album, at least the first album that Maurice did with The Emotions and certainly working with Ramsey Lewis, so Charles Stepney was a major player in the whole Chicago soul movement.
Dyana: Yeah, Chicago pop, everything.
David: There you go.
Dyana: He was a brilliant arranger producer.
David: He truly was. Well, here’s Minnie Riperton with “Come to My Garden”.
David: Okay, that was Minnie Riperton with “Come to My Garden” and was Dyana’s first choice as she shares with us her journey in the world of soul music. Okay, so now we have you having doing the college radio thing. Now you’ve done TV. What happened next?
Dyana: Well, I was doing it simultaneously and then I decided to drop out of college and to pursue radio full time and what we need to keep in mind is that this was also the infancy of FM radio and particularly black radio. I sent a resume, a makeshift resume that had my college experience, the “Ebony Moonbeams” cable TV show that I had been doing, because, hey that was my gig. Sent it to existing radio stations around the country. I went to the library because we are talking pre-, very pre- internet. If you needed information, you had to go to the library. You had to dig into the files and I sent a resume and an audition tape that was produced for me by one of my first mentors, a gentleman by the name of Van J. McDuffie. He was the overnight jazz DJ at WRDR FM in New York. It was a straight ahead jazz station and I called him one night and I said, ‘You’re my favorite DJ. I listen to you when I’m up doing my homework. I’m in college now, but one day, I’m going to be a colleague, I’m going to be on the radio and I’d like to come visit you.’ And he was like, ‘Okay young lady.; [I said], ‘By the way, I will not get you coffee. I’m not that kind of person’.
I made it real clear very early. I knew from the start, and so Van J, I would sit with him, watch, learn, question him. He ultimately did the audition tape that led me to my first paid gig in radio, which was at WHUR 96.3, Washington D.C. The original Quiet Storm station in the entire world, as established by another mentor and my best friend, Kathy Hughes.
So, 1971, Marvin Gaye released “What’s Going On”. I was empowered as a young college student with ambitions to be on the radio full time and on television. So, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” spoke to me and millions because we were talking the Vietnam War, pollution, racism, there were so many post civil war, I’m sorry did I say post civil war? Post civil rights era, there was so much going on in America and the world, but “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye eloquently and with such insight and sensitivity and spirituality and beauty captured what was going on in my young life and the lives of many others.
David: Absolutely. I can echo from a transatlantic standpoint only because I was here in the United Kingdom at the time that when we heard Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, while we weren’t involved in some of the things that the album was specifically referencing, we were worldly enough to understand what he was singing about and the way he sang, the way he composed, everything about that album was so tremendous that I’m always thrilled when people choose “What’s Going On” because it means a lot to people all over the world.
Dyana: And it’s relevant now.
David: Absolutely relevant now. It’s amazing. Well, here it is. Here’s Marvin Gaye’ with “What’s Going On”.
David: Alright, that was the legendary Marvin Gaye with the classic “What’s Going On”. Alright, Dyana, so take us to the next phase, as the Isley Brothers used to say.
Dyana: Oh the next phase, well I was on the air at WHUR for years, actually two years when one day on the hotline, I received a phone call from a gentleman who I still consider one of the top radio personalities of all time, in any genre, Frankie Crocker.
Dyana: Frankie Crocker, the chief rocker called me on the hotline. I was doing middays at that point on 96.3 WHUR and he said, ‘Dyana Williams, this is Frankie Crocker’ and I remember just being paralyzed. He offered me a job in St. Louis. He was consulting several radio stations around the country in addition to running as program director, music director WBLS in New York and [since] I was 20 at the time, Momma went with me to check out St. Louis. It was very nice, but it just did not suit my personality. It didn’t work for me and so I told him, ‘I don’t think St. Louis is a fit.’ So he comes back a little later and offers me a job in Chicago with this grand salary and the people who ran the station called me back and said ‘Miss Williams, we’re sorry to inform you that we simply cannot afford you. Mr. Crocker has offered you more than our budget will allow’ and I was disappointed because I thought Chicago was a fly Midwestern little New York and I was excited about moving to Chicago, but that did not happen.
The next call I got was from Mr. Crocker again. Actualizing one of my goals because
when I was 18, I established a five-year plan and the plan was 1. To get a job in radio, which happened. 2. To get a job in New York, the number one market in the United States for radio. 3. I wanted to work in television because I’d already wet my appetite with my cable show in Harlem at teleprompter. 4. I wanted to fall in love, meet a man that I could share my life and be a partner and have babies and then number 5, or think was it 4, I left it there. Those were my goals, and I gave myself five years to accomplish that, but I was really moving fast.
I had already gotten the job at WHUR. Frankie Crocker offered me a job at WBLS 107.5. So, there was the actualization of another goal, the realization of another goal. So, I left WHUR in Washington D.C. after a great run there. It was an exciting period of time because again, as I mentioned earlier, FM radio particularly black radio and WHUR and WBLS were two of the leading stations. We set 360 degrees of the total experience in black music. That’s what it was, one minute I played Miles Davis, I’d come back and play George Clinton. Then I’d play some go-go [music], [poet] Nikki Giovanni, and I programed my own show. So, what freedom and creativity for a DJ at that time. It was lovely. So then, 1975, in the fall, as I was turning 21, I moved to New York with Frankie Crocker at WBLS.
David: Amazing. I mean, there’s nothing like having goals realized and nothing like committing to goals and then seeing them manifest. I can just say from my experience of living in New York at the time, 1975, when I first moved there that I was very familiar with both the stations you are talking about, both WBLS because I lived there in New York and WHUR, when I used to go visit a good friend of mine in DC and they were absolutely for me the pioneers, really. I used to hear so much great music on both of those stations. So, I guess you were right there in the mix.
David: Or you were part of that. You were part of making the mix the mix!
Dyana: I was in the mix for sure, absolutely at both those stations. A year or so before I went to WBLS, I met a man who took the very breath out of my lungs. So, when we talk about that five-year plan, love at first sight and again, no internet, I didn’t know how to do much research on this man. All I could do is read about him in Jet magazine because he was a very prominent successful record mogul at the time. He produced everyone from Jerry Butler to The O’Jays to Archie Bell & The Drells, Dusty Springfield, and I’m referring to the man that I would fall in love with and have three gorgeous babies [with] and his name is Kenny Gamble, one of the architects of the sound of Philadelphia from the team Gamble and Huff.
David: How did you meet?
Dyana: We actually met when I was MC’ing an O’Jays concert at the Catamaran Amphitheater in DC. I was asked to present gold records to Gamble and Huff, and The O’Jays and some other executives from the label for, I want to say the “Survival” album. I actually have it somewhere. So, when I made the presentation, I didn’t meet them at that time, but later ran into Gamble backstage in the dressing room of The O’Jays and it was love at first sight, like I said. Love at first sight. But we became friends. We were friends for about a year and some change before we moved into the Eros part of our relationship.
David: I love the way you said that!
Dyana: I think it’s always good to establish a foundation of friendship with someone that you become romantically involved with - and what an exciting relationship [it was]. I was privy to meeting some of the top anybody, purple, polka dot, orange, white, black, in politics, religion, of course in music because he was producing and his Philadelphia International label was one of the hottest labels and some of the biggest hits in black music were coming out of 309 South Broad Street which is where Gamble and Huff’s offices were based, still are. So, yeah, that would lead me to my next song.
David: Which is?
Dyana: The O’Jays “Darling Darling Baby” I was told that I was the inspiration for this song.
David: Wow, that’s pretty major. Well, let’s play it, but then I want to talk to you more about of course how life developed and unfolded as you [said] - I love the phrasing - ‘when we moved into the Eros aspect of our relationship.’ So, we’ll talk a little bit about that after we’ve played The O’Jays with another classic recording, of course from Philadelphia International Records. This is “Darling Darling Baby”.
David: Alright that was the - I keep using the word legendary - but I don’t really have any other words, legendary O’Jays.
Dyana: The mighty O’Jays.
David: There you go, the mighty O’Jays with “Darling Darling Baby”, which apparently was inspired by the lady which we’re speaking to today, Ms. Dyana Williams. So, tell us, well first before we get into how you’re relationship with Mr. Gamble developed, I assume you were still living in New York. Am I correct?
Dyana: Well, I was living in New York for the beginning of our relationship and then I moved back to Washington D.C. to give birth to our first son, Caliph Gamble who is a film maker and an audio engineer who’s done sessions with everyone from The Roots to Justin Timberlake to Will Downing. My son is a very accomplished, talented man. So, Gamble and I, over the course of our relationship had two sons, Caliph, who I just referred to, Salahdeen Gamble and Princes Idia Gamble, our only daughter. So, we have three children. And we were together for the better part of the decade, of the mid-‘70s going into the mid-80’s and it was a wonderful time.
David: Well, tell me, so you were living in New York and then D.C. At what point did you [move to Philadelphia]? Well I know of course when I met you, you were living in Philadelphia I believe. Yes, I’m pretty sure, yes?
Dyana: Yes. I moved to Philadelphia in 1980.
David: 1980? Okay.
Dyana: I moved to Philadelphia in 1980 full time because I was commuting between our home in Washington DC and Gamble’s business - of course, the label was based in Philadelphia - and he was commuting back and forth, but that’s where I started my professional television career in 1978, I was offered a position as an entertainment reporter at the CBS-owned and operated-affiliate WBUSA. I did TV. I was covering culture in the Maryland, Virginia, and DC area. So, before that though I did rock radio. I was a rock DJ. Imagine that day that I was doing Led Zeppelin and-
David: …I can’t imagine it, no!
Dyana: I have air checks still from that period of time. I love radio and I feel that because I’m a broadcaster, I literally can do any format of radio, country, classical, hip hop, jazz, you name it. I am a broadcaster, although my preference is soul music and that’s what I’ve been doing the majority of my career. I did have a stint as a rock DJ, and that was fun, but then I got the job doing entertainment television and that was the fulfillment of another goal that I had on my five-year plan list. But then family responsibilities and my obligation to my man superseded my TV career at that point and I came to Philadelphia in 1980, but was immediately offered a job at WDAS at 105.3 which is another heritage major station in the United States and still is and I was on the air there for almost nine years.
David: Well, let me ask you before we spend some time talking about that period of time, how was it, obviously being in this incredible relationship with one of the architects of the Philadelphia sound, a man whose music has been heard literally around the world, but how was it, I assume being around the creative process, also I am assuming being on sessions with some of the most important artists in music: Lou Rawls, your referenced The O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass. These great great performances and artists. How was that for you as someone who is obviously right there on the scene? How was it?
Dyana: Well that’s part of why that period of my life was so immensely satisfying and exciting because, as you did mention, I was in the presence of some very talented artists and often times would go in the studio when they were laying down the strings or actual vocal recordings. It was just beautiful, and we would be in bed, Gamble would have an idea. He would keep a yellow legal pad nearby and he would start jotting down titles or lyrics and sometimes he would get stuck and he was like, ‘baby, what do you think?’ And I would drop a word here and there. I did write one song with Gamble and Huff and that song is called “No Laughing Matter”. That was recorded by Jean Carne.
Dyana: Jean Carne, “No Laughing Matter”. I was so torn [in choosing songs for this show] because that was another one of my favorite songs, but it was so difficult, but anyway…. So, it was beautiful, that was a period of time, you’re talking about Dexter Wansel, Thom Bell, Linda Creed, who was a friend of mine who wrote some of the most classic R&B ballads of all time. “Betcha By Golly Wow”, to “The Greatest [Love Of All] which she did with Michael Masser. As it relates to music, I knew that these people were spectacular, special, and giving us literally the soundtrack to our lives. I know it was definitely the soundtrack to my life. And because of the relationship with Gamble, so many of those songs defined our relationship. I could take the songs and line them up and say ‘oh, that was that argument or that was that vacation, or that was when we made our first baby.’ Billy Paul, “Let’s Make A Baby.” Gamble came home and said, ‘ let’s make a baby,’ it was his invitation. ‘Come on, let’s make this baby.’ So many of the songs. There’s another song that I truly love called “It’s You I Love”. It’s one of Teddy Pendergrass lesser-known songs from the “Coast To Coast [album]”, but when I heard the song, Gamble looked at me and I smiled and I was like, it was our love story. So, it was beautiful. Plus, it was also the period of time that Gamble established the Black Music Association. I was very active and involved in the Philadelphia chapter, but of course, privy to what was going on in the national scene because I would accompany Gamble to meetings, the conventions, so it was Stevie Wonder, it was Bob Marley, it was Dionne Warwick, it was Smokey Robinson, it was you name them. Whoever it was, creating music, Barry White, Isaac Hayes, they were involved with the BMA and I had a chance to interact, and I was on the radio. I would play their music, interview them, they would be in our home or I would be backstage with them, I would MC their concerts. So, beautiful period of my life, very exciting to meet these masters of soul music. And to be with a man who could write a song and express his love and passion for our relationship and then I could play it on the radio. Hot!
David: That’s not bad! I was going to ask you, I know this is difficult, but I need to ask you this. Is there a particular recording session that stands out in your memory because of either the artist or just whatever was happening at that time, is there one, I know it’s probably there isn’t one, but could you focus on one and just kind of recreate is a little bit for us, what it was like?
Dyana: Well, I recall distinctly the day that I went to 309 South Broad Street to Gamble and Huff’s studios and they were laying down the strings for “Stairway to Heaven” by The O’Jays. Chill bumps even as I speak. What, ‘here we go, climbing the stairway to heaven. Taking the load of this world off our shoulders. The doors wide open for you. It’s open for me.’ Beautiful. So Gamble and Huff used a lot of the string musicians for the Philadelphia orchestra. You had this great blend of the fabulous rhythm section, you had the Chambers brothers, you had Earl Young, you had, so you had the grittiness of the rhythm section, then you had these beautiful string orchestrations. Bunny Sigler, Dexter Wansel, McFadden & Whitehead, these people had rooms where they would be writing songs and there was so much creative energy coming out of that building, but that particular session, I recall very fondly. It was absolutely beautiful.
Then the other ones that I remember were when the Jacksons - they were first the Jackson 5 during their tenure at Motown - however when they left, they had to change the name because they didn’t own the name the Jackson 5. They became the Jacksons and they came to Philadelphia for some of Gamble and Huff’s magic and that’s where I met Michael Jackson and those sessions with the Jacksons, very memorable.
David: Alright. Well, we’re progressing here, so we’re moving through different eras here, different aspects of your life. You mentioned of course the Black Music Association, of course we’re talking about the sessions at Philadelphia International. So what would you consider to be the next major milestone in your story, in your journey?
Dyana: Well, so many, and asking a DJ who is with a songwriter/producer, very very difficult. And this song is not necessarily in the order of my life, but one that has fascinated me always, and is very much a part of my life because its message is so pertinent and I’m referring to Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free”. I actually met Donny Hathaway in the early ‘70s. I went to a session that he was producing with Quincy Jones and I was a guest of Hubert Laws. He was on the session and he parked me in the control room with Donny Hathaway and Quincy Jones who called Aretha Franklin and Quincy was on the phone talking to Aretha, telling her about Donny Hathaway, how brilliant he was, how outstanding and I’m sitting right there. And that was when they were doing the soundtrack to “Come Back Charleston Blue.” That’s another memorable recording session, but that wasn’t at Philadelphia International. So, Donny Hathaway, I became aware of his music, I love the soundtrack to that film, “Come Back Charleston Blue” and everything else he ever recorded and released, and I of course played his music through the years as a DJ, but with “Someday We’ll All Be Free”, David, I particularly love that song because it says ‘Hang on to the world as it spins around. Don’t let the spin get you down. Things are moving fast. Hold on and you’ll last.’ So, this is a song that I have requested to my family that is to be played at my memorial service because I have programmed all the songs.
I have reached out to my friends who are singers to play everybody from Bill Jolly, who you know is a producer, to Will Downing, who was quite annoyed when I said, ‘listen this is what, I need you to sing “Darling Darling Baby”’ [and he said], ‘how could I say no?’ How future thinking and how much dealing with reality because we’re all going to die, and I just want my memorial service to be the way I want it and I told you earlier, I’m a planner, I’m a producer, I’m an organizer. So, it’s all in writing, and this is the song that I have asked to have played when I make my physical transition because I will remain here as long as there is life and a world, I will remain here, but someday I’ll be free.
David: Alright, I can’t say anything. I can’t add a single word to that. Here it is, here’s Donny Hathaway.
David: That was Donny Hathaway with the amazing song “Someday We’ll All Be Free” and again, pertinent to life as we live it today as much as it was when it was written and recorded.
Dyana: Absolutely. Just a grand grand song, and I’ve become friendly with one of Donny’s daughters, Danita Hathaway and I told her that’s one of my favorite Donny Hathaway songs, not just for my passing, but for my life. It’s an inspiration to carry me through every day as a reminder of how things can be challenging and difficult, but they can be overcome and freedom being the goal.
David: Alright, so lets keep going with our journey. Where are we at now?
Dyana: Wow, fast forward, on the air at WDLS for many years, very active in the community, in the music community, through the Black Music Association and then in the early ‘90s, I cofounded an organization called the International Association of African American Music, IAAAM, which was actually born, David, out of the ashes of the BMA. The BMA had a lot of issues and was no longer functioning, but I decided to establish an organization that would be a non-membership organization because I went to the BMA founders and said, ‘How do I do this and not make the mistakes that were made before’ and they said, ‘control it. Don’t have too many chefs in the kitchen, [which] will spoil the soup. You can’t have so many people working up in a kitchen to make the meal.’
So, we established in 1990-’91 The International Association of African American Music Foundation, which we refer to as IAAAM. That’s the acronym. And IAAAM did music conferences during June, Black Music Month, which I helped to establish and promote with Kenny Gamble, my ex, and that’s another big chapter of my life because we produced events that literally David attracted - you know, because were the writer for my IAAAM Diamond Award. An award called the Diamond Award that we gave to dynamic outstanding individuals. We honored everybody from Albertina Walker to Maze and Frankie Beverly, Nina Simone - which you very instrumental in helping me with - so many people, The Whispers, Babyface, LA Reid, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Gamble and Huff, Bell, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, the list is long.
Every year, and the beautiful thing about our event is we did panels, we did symposiums, we did private meetings for the executives called ‘The Executive Consortium.’ We did private meetings for the producers, which I called ‘The Producers’ Collective’ . So, we addressed the songwriters, the producers, the executives, the business people, and these meetings were - even though I organized them and was usually very hectic - they were very significant, I think, historically, musically, and also for people who were aspirants trying to get into the business and even for the established folks. So, we had meetings at different levels. We had performance luncheons, and then we topped everything off with the big Diamond Awards Gala, where we honored people, but we had other well-known artists pay tribute to those people. So, Vesta Williams did a medley of Chaka Khan songs.
Dyana: So, that kind of thing and it was Brian McKnight and Take 6 honoring Stevie Wonder. You know, we honored Gladys Knight, we honored Nancy Wilson, and it was every genre of music, jazz, we honored Freddie Hubbard, Nicolas Peyton did the tribute to him. It was just an exciting, beautiful even that went on for many many years. And we also took it to London.
Dyana: You were involved in that as well.
David: And it was truly international. And it was an amazing experience.
Dyana: Yes, seminars and a black tie dinner there, and we did that for about four years.
David: And when you look back at that time period, I mean again it would be impossible for you to give me a specific highlight, but is there, well, just for the sake of historical relevance, is there a particular event during the course of the IAAAM years that stands out in your mind?
Dyana: Well, I would have to say immediately the year that we honored Queen Latifah, Nina Simone, Freddie Hubbard. That year, because I had asked Queen Latifah to ten years, every year a ‘no, no no no,’ and she finally came and it happened to be the same year that we honored Nina Simone and that was a big one for me, Nina Simone- because everybody was like, ‘oh you’re dreaming. She lives in Europe. Oh, she had a bad experience with [The] Curtis [Institute of Music in Philadelphia]. She’s not coming back to Philly.’ And she came. And not only did she come and this was just before she made her transition and died, but she was engaged [in the event]. She was impressed. She spoke to everybody. She was regal and Jill Scott did the tribute to her along with N’Dambi. And Jill Scott was on the rise. She was just coming up. A lot of people didn’t know who Jill Scott was. They certainly didn’t know about N’Dambi and N’Dambi was a background singer for Erykah Badu and grew up with her in Texas for many years, toured the world with her. So, I would have to say that’s a tough one, too, David, to isolate, but that was a big one. You were there, what would you say?
David: I’m completely biased, given the role that Nina Simone played in my life and to see her receive an award, one of the few she ever received in her whole life and quite possibly one of the only ones she ever received in the land in which she was born. It was an incredible experience. Absolutely incredible, incredible, I remember it, I’ll never forget it. I can see the look on her face. I can see the smile on her face. That was just an amazing, amazing event. And I am so thrilled that we got to work on that together, but also that you, as an organization, got to honor one of the people who absolutely has never been fully recognized for her contribution and that was a major step towards that recognition.
Dyana: Yes, and I had Kenny Gamble present the award as well. He was very touched. She was very fond of Gamble and it gave even greater depth and meaning to her to have the award presented, but you know Kathy Hughes who runs Radio One, TV Onewas there. She was MC’ing. Eve was one of the MCs as well that night. So, it was literally a ‘who’s who’ in the music industry. It was a cavalcade of some of the biggest starts from Gerald Levert to you name it. Everybody was there. It was just star studded, but it was very magnificent and touching because of the history that Nina Simone had with Philadelphia in particular. It was towards the later part of her life.
David: So with IAAAM finally, when did you say, ‘okay, we’ve got to call it a day?’
Dyana: IAAAM still functions on a different level, but we don’t do, we haven’t been doing the annual music conference, nor the conference in England because of the economic downturn. It was very difficult to raise money, it was a very expensive event to produce. We did it in a very first class way. We would fly our artists in, we housed them, hotels, it was very expensive to do. And so, when the economy of the United States, and particularly the music business, started going down, I made the prudent decision to suspend the big music conference and the focus then became more of our community grassroots outreach. We did things like adopt a recreation center in North Philadelphia and produced programming for teens for six weeks. We’ve gone into the schools here in Philadelphia with the literacy lyric project. That was established by myself and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. So, we decided to still do programming, but on a lower level, not such a big scale and it’s worked fine. People keep asking me will we do a big conference and I’m saying when somebody drops six figures in my lap because I did it for many many years and I did it as I mentioned, as we discussed in London, but we also did events in Japan. We produced a USO tour with Philip Bailey and took Philip and fifty musicians to military instillation, to five military installations and to Guam. We’ve been to Africa. We’ve been through the Caribbean. It’s just a lot a lot of work. And now that I am moving into the later stage of my life, you want to relax a little more.
I’m still very active in the promotion of black music. In the year 2000, I wrote President Clinton and asked him to host a reception for Black Music Month and the White House said, ‘well we see where President Jimmy Carter in 1978 hosted a reception, but you know, he didn’t sign a presidential proclamation. So, from our vantage point, we see where you guys in the music business have been celebrating it, but it’s not like super official.’ I was horrified. I called Gamble and I was like, ‘can you believe this?’ And he was shocked. But the White House encouraged me to enact legislation to get June established as Black Music Month. And David, I put on my most comfortable shoes, I went to Washington DC, - here I am a girl from Bronx, Harlem, New York, USA, lobbying congressmen and senators to support the enactment of a bill that would recognize June officially as Black Music Month. Took a couple of years, but with the help and guidance of Congressmen Chaka Fattah, introduced the legislation. It was passed and hence many people calling me the ‘Mother of Black Music Month’ because after that time the American government and Presidents recognized it and I was invited to two private meetings in the oval office with President Clinton and subsequently went back to the white house during the George Bush administration. I actually helped his staff to organize Black Music Month receptions in the east room of the White House. That was a lot of fun. So, IAAAM has still been-
David: Quite busy, yeah. Absolutely. Now - obviously I know given our relationship and our association - I know about your diversification into other areas, but for the benefit of those listening, , you were still a broadcaster. You still had IAAAM going. At what point did you then diversify into the next major area of your life, which I’m going to say is media coaching, correct?
Dyana: Well, yes, media coaching, I call it celebrity strategy. I’m a celebrity strategist who specializes in media coaching. It was around the same time that I established [IAAAM]. I’ve been coaching now going on 19 years. And so, as a coach, I’ve helped artists, celebrities of different statures, Lee Daniels, who’s an Oscar nominated filmmaker for “Precious,” many people know him. I’ve worked with athletes such as Alan Iverson, who was in the NBA, Michael Vick who is currently the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, I’ve worked with several celebrities, I’m sorry, executives, and I’ve worked with mostly recording artists. So, some of those artists on my roster past and present include Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Usher, Chris Brown, the Dave Matthews Band, several members of that group, the Zac Brown band who are country artists, Mary Mary, gospel artists, Menudo, I did their session in Spanish because I’m Latina. So, literally all genres. T.I., who is somebody I continue to work with. Ironically, I coached his wife when she was in the group X-scape and now I’m coaching his step daughter in the group OMG Girls. They’re on Pretty Hustle, Grant hustle streamline - which is, oh goodness it just slipped my mind - Lady Gaga’s manager, Vincent Herbert. He has the girls on one of his labels through Interscope.
So, I’m still coaching after all these years and it’s probably one of the more gratifying parts of my career as well because I get to help people be better. Do I have all the answers? No. But I have many from having worked in the music industry and as a broadcaster coming up on forty years. So, I enjoy that part of my life very much. I travel literally all over the world with my clients. I went to Jamaica with Brandy, I’m in Atlanta all the time. I was just there, Miami, Chicago, LA, New York. I’m in New York pretty much every week. I was just there last week, I’m coaching most of the new artists that LA Reid has signed to the new Epic Records, so I have worked with Future and Cash Out, Brandon Heinz, and a new artist who I just worked with named Travis Scott, who is producing some music for Kanye West. So, I love it because it keeps me aware of what’s going on now, very current. I’m very familiar with the legacy and the past of soul music, but I love its evolution and being able to work with this generation of artists keeps me vibrant and youthful.
David: Now, am I correct that the fifth song you’ve chosen is actually associated with someone that you worked with in that particular mode?
Dyana: My third client. My first client came to me from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s Perspective Records, a group called Solo, and then I worked with Vertical Hold, Angie Stone, and my third client was a gentleman by the name of Michael Archer, known to millions as D’Angelo. And he and I forged a relationship in 1995. I was his coach and we just stayed in touch over the years - sometimes we would lose touch, but the bottom line is he is one of my most beloved people in my life. I have tremendous affection for him and the last song that I selected is called “Another Life” because I’ve been with Michael in the studio and more importantly, when he was working on this song, in his home and just discussions and he and I [had] it is very reminiscent of Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s work and The Stylistics and those pretty songs and it will be on his forthcoming album and I picked this song because it just reminds me of passionate love and it’s a significant song because of my profound relationship and friendship with, and affection with and for Michael Archer, a.k.a. D’Angelo.
David: Well, here it is. Here’s “Another Life”.
David: That was D’Angelo with “Another Life”, which concludes the musical selections of course, but we want to bring our audience up to date with your current activities. But, before we do that, just so I can be clear, your radio journey continued through the ‘90s, through the 2000s, while you were developing and expanding your celebrity, say it again?
Dyana: Working as a celebrity strategist.
David: Strategist. That’s the word I was missing.
Dyana: I’m developing strategies to help high profile people deal with their public persona. I never stopped radio. I did part time. I worked on a syndicated radio show called Star Beat with Gary Byrd, who’s a very talented broadcaster, who wrote “The Crown” with Stevie Wonder. So, Gary and I hosted a syndicated show for several years and then I did an Internet radio show before Internet radio broke big. I did a show on Soul 24/7 out of England. The station was based in London and I did a show called “Modern Vintage Soul” for a while before I returned to celestial radio six years ago. So, my journey in radio has been pretty consistent, non-stop from the beginning and I still did the coaching and artist celebrity development and I ran IAAAM. I’m a busy woman, David. You know that!
I wrote a monthly column for the Frequency Magazine, so all of that was going on while I was raising my children and traveling the world and also I am a contributing correspondent and I have you to thank for this, David, allowing me to take time this moment to say thank you for introducing me to the producers of TV One’s “Unsung” [series] which is one of their most popular documentary shows because when they were looking for people to talk about Phyllis Hyman and their first season, Donny Hathaway, you recommended me and they liked me. I fell in love with them, and they fell in love with me and I have been on that show consistently pretty much every season since the show started I believe in 2008 and so “Unsung.”
I also had the privilege of co-executive producing with Mark Rowland who’s the executive producer in charge of the show, the Teddy Pendergrass episode because Teddy was my neighbor for 20 years, my physical neighbor and he also was one of my best male friends and I wound up doing, organizing his memorial service when he passed, made his transition, and his wife Joan asked me to deliver his eulogy as well. So, yeah, anyway, I did executive producing for Unsung and I’m still involved with television. TV, radio, anything that has to do with promotion and the perpetuation of our music and culture, David, is what drives me and I will do probably until my last breath.
David: Which is exactly why it’s perfect having you on this particular audio program at Soulmusic.com. Giving R-E-S-P-E-C-T is exactly what this is about and the last sentence that you just shared with us, what you articulated is what has this be the perfect place for us to hear about your journey and having you had you share it with us. So, as we conclude, what are some of the things you’re up to right now? And what are you looking to be doing as 2012 continues and rolls on?
Dyana: Well, first allow me to thank you and Michael for affording me an opportunity to speak with the listeners, the readers of SoulMusic.com because it is without question, one of my favorite sites on the Internet. Always engaging, entertaining, educational, it’s just a wonderful wonderful site. So, to be selected as one of the few people that you do this with is a very distinct honor for me.
Currently, I am re-upping with my former collaborator, Nelson George, who’s a very prominent author of many books and a director. He’s done “Good Hair” with Chris Rock. He did “Life Support” with Queen Latifah for HBO. He just did the ESPN documentary on Magic Johnson. He and I have teamed up again on a project that we started in the early 2000s and that is the Gamble-Huff-Bell Sound of Philadelphia documentary. So, we shot approximately 30 interview and we know we are going to finish up the documentary. So, I anticipate the remainder of 2012 and perhaps the beginning of 2013 will be involved in that process of the completion of that documentary. The official Gamble Huff Bell documentary, we’re doing this. I’m working with them. And also, I am still writing. I have so many people encouraging me to write a book, and I have contributed to several books because I have great admiration for people like you, David, who write. I don’t consider myself a writer, but I certainly can run my mouth. You can hear that. But I know a lot about our music and our culture and the long term goal will be to write a book about music, my coaching, not necessarily my life. That’s if I was going to write about my life, I have to protect the guilty! Although I could make it fictional! But, I’m looking forward to… my oldest son just got engaged and on the personal tip because I think you must have balance in life, I’m looking forward to being ‘Nana Dyana’!
David: I love it! Nana Dyana!
Dyana: I’m looking forward to traveling and enjoying parts of the world that I’ve not experienced as of yet, but my life, David, will be dedicated for its duration to the perpetuation, the preservation, the promotion of black music until I die and that will be museum exhibitions, art, any and everything that has to do, plays, my younger years I was very active in theater and I believe that ultimately I’ll return to directing and producing, theater that is, specific to black music. So, you know, I’ve still got a little time left in me and a lot of energy and passion for soul music. So, keep your eye, keep your ears peeled for more to come.
David: Alright, well Dyana, I want to thank you so much for taking time today, sharing with us an amazing journey, amazing journey. I mean, I think that the thing that I’ll take away from this, apart from all the great stories that you shared with us, and really taking us through your life, is that I’ll go back to when you set those goals and how you achieved those in such an amazing way. And I think that that’s something that we can pass onto everyone who’s listening, the importance of following your dreams and living your dreams.
Dyana: Fearlessly living your dreams. That’s just it. I understand people having trepidations because I’ve had them as well, but goals have been for me the blueprint, the direction for the journey that I’m still on and the goals that we talked about earlier, I established those when I was eighteen and accomplished those really fast. Now, the goal is to be productive, progressive and positive for the duration of my life and to serve humanity through music, black music, soul music.
David: Alright. In the words of Nina Simone: ‘Nuff Said. Thank you,
Dyana. Much love to you and thank you.
Dyana: Alright, David. Much love to you as well.
Dyana Williams can be reached via her websites:
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.