Dyana Williams wears a variety of hats. The celebrity strategist and ambassadress of Black music, who has worked with Rihanna, T.I. Fantasia, Erykah Badu, Faith Evans, Justin Bieber, Mary Mary and many others, is also an in-demand speaker, MC and the host of Old School 100.3’s “Soulful Sunday” radio program. Williams also ran an international music foundation and has been in radio over four decades. Given her wealth of experience in the entertainment world, as well as her skills managing celebrities through crisis, (you may have seen her recent appearance on “Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta” advising embattled singer K. Michelle ) we caught up with her to ask her about one of the toughest weeks ever for Black folks this year. Here’s what she had to say.
If Black America was one of the your celebrity clients, what advice would you give them after a week that included the Zimmerman trial, Paula Deen and the Supreme Court’s decision to gut a major provision of the Voting Rights Act?
We would need to have open and honest, candid conversations about the reality of racism. And that’s a part of what is going on now. It’s like a planetary alignment all converging at one time. The reality is that racism has thrived in America. It’s been an incubator for discrimination and yes, we’ve gone through the civil rights movement. However.But. The bottom line is that racism is still alive and well in America.
Paula Deen has hired, ironically enough, Judy Smith, the real-life inspiration for Olivia Pope on “Scandal.” Can Smith resurrect her career if not her reputation?
I think Judy Smith is a capable tried-and-true crisis intervention professional, but the way major corporations are backing up from Paula Deen as though she had the bubonic plague, I think it’s going to be a serious challenge to turn the tide of negative sentiment against Paula Deen.
Yet at the same time people have been lining up at Paula’s restaurants and her book has jumped to #1 on Amazon. So she has her supporters, maybe among the culture of people who share her viewpoints?
Absolutely. Controversy can generate sales just like when an artist dies, people buy their music just to get their hands on whatever they can. That’s the nature of human beings. As you just said, people who share Paula Deen’s positions and there are many, are going to be right in her corner. But the major corporations have severed ties with her because they recognize African-American consumers are part of their bottom line and they are not trying to be insensitive.
We are on the eve of the BET Awards this weekend, the annual showcase of Black music. One of the main performers at the Awards is Chris Brown, who has had his own problems this week. How would you advise him?
Chris Brown is an incredible performer. Had it not been for the Rihanna incident and Michael Jackson’s passing, there would have been a clear lane for him. However, his off-the mic, off-the-stage, out-of-the-studio behavior has been problematic for years and I believe it detracts from his brand and his higher level success. If I were advising him, I’d say be on your P’sand Q’s. Be ultra-mindful. Part of his problem is his youth. I have found in my business that when a person comes into great wealth and notoriety, managing the currents of fame become quite challenging. He needs to be ultra-careful. He’s got to know that he’s being watched. If I were him, the only time you would see or hear me is when I’m on a stage.
Another individual who I know you’ve had experience with is Allen Iverson. He’s been accused of abducting his kids, who he does not have custody of. (It appears that that is not the case, though) But at 38, now that his basketball career is over, can he still reform his reputation?
If I were working with him and his team, I’d craft a statement acknowledging his love for his children and their mother and to note that they are clearly having differences, as is the case when people break up. I would appeal to people in similar scenarios and say ‘Pray for my family’ as we work on our conflicts. Just because it’s in the media, just because it’s being reported, doesn’t mean that its accurate. We don’t know all the details.
This is the end of Black Music Month. There are those who believe we no longer need HBCU’s, no longer need Black History Month, or Black Music Month. Why do you think Black Music Month is important?
As far as Black music, it is indigenous. It’s American music and all Americans should be celebrating something that’s been created by Black folks bought here from Africa. It’s something to be proud of. In addition to being an incredibly inspiring art form, it is also a huge business to the tune of multi-billions of dollars and that’s something worth celebrating, in my book.