Sisters Behind The Music
Women Publicists Making and Keeping Entertainers Household Names
Publicists, they keep us relevant, and they keep our secrets. So on January 27, in response to the heat of The New Edition Story, writer Michael A. Gonzales noted an outstanding omission from the series: no mention of publicist Juanita Stephens, the woman behind the group. The response from those with long memories was rousing.
“Although former MCA Records publicist Juanita Stephens wasn't represented in the New Edition movie, I thought about her for the entire three nights.”
— Michael A. Gonzales , Facebook, January 27, 2017
During Stephens tenure with MCA Records, as the first African-American female Vice President of Publicity and Artist Development, the diminutive powerhouse played a major role in making and keeping New Edition a household name; and the group was not the only one. After seven years at the label Stephens was selected to become personal manager to Grammy winner, Bobby Brown. That relationship resulted in the success of Brown's crossover appeal, and his calling her out as his career catalyst on a nationally televised music awards show. Her roster also included, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Eric Benét, Carl Thomas, Buju Banton, Brian McKnight, Faith Evans, Patti LaBelle, Heavy D., Loose Ends, Jodeci, Jody Watley Stephanie Mills, Gladys Knight, Frankie Beverly & Maze and Joe, among others.
Stephen’s stellar career also included stints at the helm of Warner Bros., Polygram and Bad Boy Worldwide, where she ran campaigns for numerous artists, such as Mase, Vanessa Williams, and 112, among others. In 2000, she formed JS Media Relations, working with such artists as, reality TV Star, Dice Dixon, The R. Kelly 2009 Double-Up Tour, featuring Keisha Cole and Neo, Lalah Hathaway, Kindred the Family Soul, BMI’s Urban Unsigned Artist Showcases, BET Network series Reed Between the Lines, The Game and Sunday Best, and famed record producer Salaam Remi.
For the past 7 years Stephens has spun her magic, along with fellow publicist Karen Lee, for eleven-time Grammy nominee and author, Charlie Wilson, former lead singer of the iconic funk trio, the Gap Band.
And she has not been alone.
At her side, through the eighties, nineties and new millennium—on panels, at conferences, concerts, press conferences, and of course, parties—were, and still are, a bevy of black women helping to create and maintain fame. The list below of publicists and their clients is by no means exhaustive, not even close; but you’ll get the picture of who was working while you danced.
Beverly Durant-Paige: Black Sheep, Brian McKnight, Case, Crystal Waters, Dru Hill, El DeBarge, EPMD, The Fat Boys, Jay Z, Kurtis Blow, MC Rell, Montell Jordan, P.M. Dawn, Public Enemy, Salt-N-Pepa, Slick Rick, Swing Out Sister, Tears for Fears, Teddy Riley & Blackstreet, Vanity 6, Will Downing
Tracey J. Jordan: Boyz II Men, Exposé, Johnny Gill, Lionel Richie, Mary Jane Girls, Morris Day and The Time, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder
Karen Lee: Charlie Wilson, Eric Benét, Jaheim, Karen White, Prince and Paisley Park Enterprises, Quincy Jones, Seal, Tupac Shakur
Chrissy Murray: Aaliyah, All-4-One, Anita Baker, Brandy, Fat Joe, LeVert, Lil Kim, Nappy Roots, Ray J, Twista
Yvette Noel-Schure: Adele, Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child, Jessica Simpson, John Legend, Kelly Rowland, Mariah Carey, Maxwell, Michelle Williams, Prince, Will Smith, Wyclef Jean
La’Verne Perry-Kennedy: B2K, Babyface, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Brownstone, Culture Club, Full Force, Ginuwine, George Michael, Groove Theory, Isley Brothers, Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, The Jacksons, Sade, Shabba Ranks
Gwendolyn Quinn: Aretha Franklin, Brian Courtney Wilson, Deborah Cox, Chaka Khan, Faith Evans, Mase, Monica, Naughty By Nature, Notorious B.I.G., Queen Latifah, Rachelle Ferrell, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Whitney Houston, Zhané
Jacqueline Rhinehart: Aretha Franklin, Brian McKnight, Carlos Santana, Heavy D, Kenny G, Lisa Stansfield, Mary J. Blige, Oleta Adams, TLC, Third World, and Whitney Houston; launch of LaFace Records, Bad Boy Records, and Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife soundtracks
Wendy Washington: Chico DeBarge, Donnie, Erykah Badu, Heavy D, India. Arie, Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Monifah, Nelly, Rakim
The late Patti Webster: Alicia Keys, BeBe and CeCe Winans, Celine Dion, Diana Ross, Gloria Estefan, Janet Jackson, Julio Iglesias, Kelly Rowland, Ludacris, Patti LaBelle, Stephanie Mills, Stevie Wonder, Usher
© Jelani Bandele 2017