[NOTE: Check out the entire issue celebrating Women in Media at https://radiofacts.com/338927_RMPI_LoRes.pdf]
By Janine Coveney
As this issue of Radio Facts arrives in your hands, we are still mourning the passing of the incredible Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who left us on August 16, 2018.
As an ambassador of American-bred musical artistry and excellence and as a global emblem of the African American experience to the rest of the world, Aretha Franklin was unrivaled. Her personal life was complicated at times, but always marked by a strong faith in God and an unwavering understanding of the matchless singularity of her vocal prowess. When she sang she was lit from within; her phrasing, ad libs, low trills and sky-high vocal embellishments were entirely unique to her and always thrilling to the ear. Her piano playing, informed by both gospel and jazz, was inventive and skilled. Her recorded repertoire spans gospel, Broadway tunes, ballads, blues, pop reinterpretations, dance-floor jams and straight up funk.
When Luciano Pavarotti – one of the world’s foremost operatic tenors – could not sing at the 1998 Grammy ceremony, Aretha Franklin stepped in and performed one of the best-known arias in opera, conquering the Italian libretto and adapting its key to her contralto-to-soprano range. I’m sure there was no doubt in her mind whatsoever that she could pull it off, and of course the results were jaw-dropping. Aretha was not just a singer. She was a consummate musician.
Aretha did not suffer fools – or those who underestimated her – gladly. Nor should she have. As a Black woman working within the arts since before the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, ultimately sustaining a career lasting more than six decades, she was a witness to the best and worst not only within the entertainment industry but within America as a whole. She was crowned the Queen of Soul by her fans, and it was a title she earned by the sweat of her brow. In her manner and how she conducted her affairs, she was regal in every regard. It is no wonder that the song most associated with her is the one in which she demands “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” Aretha Franklin commanded respect as a woman, as a African American, as an artist, and as a professional.
Respect for the professional abilities and accomplishments of women of color at all levels of the entertainment industry is what the Radio Facts 2018 Women In Media issue celebrates. Women of color have made significant inroads as top executives, business managers, and arts creators, becoming in the process the influencers, taste makers and thought leaders who help drive the in fast-paced, ever-changing marketplace. That they do so in a business still primarily dominated by men is noteworthy.
This year’s slate of 2018 Women In Media honorees include some ladies you know and perhaps some that you don’t. They represent radio broadcasting, label A&R, promotion, distribution, publishing, publicity, performance rights, artist development, and television production. Their expertise spans hip-hop, R&B, Latin, gospel, and both television and film.
Included are industry veterans like radio programming exec Kathy Brown of WWWZ Charleston, SC; entrepreneur Sheila Eldridge, CEO of syndicated radio company Café Mocha; New York radio personality Angie Martinez of Power 105 New York; and Atlantic promotion VP Juliette Jones. These ladies have paid their dues and risen to the top of their fields by doing what they do best. Also in this mold is Tamar Rand, VP of Promotions & Strategy for RCA Inspiration, who is key to keeping gospel music on the cutting edge. And Tina Davis, VP of A&R for Empire Distribution, represents the new age of hybrid executive whose projects span both music and screen projects; she serves as producer for a new reality show airing on BET this season.
As more of our stories are being told on the screen – many by women of color, including Ava DuVernay, Dee Rees, Amma Assante, Lena Waithe, Shonda Rhimes, and others – the door has opened wider, shedding light on those who have long worked behind the scenes and creating opportunities for newcomers. Included among the new vanguard within film and television are writer, director and producer Felicia D. Henderson, who just inked a deal with Twentieth Century Fox TV; Imani Ellis, Senior Communications Manager at Bravo and Oxygen Media, NBCUniversal; and Dionne Harmon, VP Development at Jesse Collins Entertainment.
The cross-cultural vitality of Latin music and culture cannot be denied (the success of “Despacito” is only the latest indicator). The 2018 Women in Media issue celebrates two of the women making a difference from the performance rights side: honorees Delia Orjuela, VP Latin Music, BMI, and Gabriella Gonzalez, VP Latin, ASCAP, are diligently developing songwriters and performers who are innovating new sounds not only within the Latin market but within hip-hop and pop music worldwide.
This is a critical time to recognize and support the ascendancy of women. The past year has seen the establishment of the #Me Too and #Times Up movements, uncovering the sexism and harassment many women – and men -- have been subjected to in the corridors of power. Uncovering these truths in the service of fair and safe working conditions for everyone is a positive step. We are seeing some long-established arts institutions – including The Recording Academy (Grammys) and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (Oscars) -- working to institute more diversity and inclusion among their ranks, addressing both gender and race. While more issues remain – hiring more women as top executives at major corporations and achieving pay parity between men and women – some progress is visible.
By celebrating the myriad ways women of color are making a difference across a broad spectrum of entertainment paradigms, Radio Facts looks to give them their “propers,” as Aretha would say. Congratulations to all of the 2018 Women In Media honorees.
Janine Coveney is a freelance editorial consultant. She has previously been advocacy content & communications manager for The Recording Academy; smooth jazz/urban AC format manager for United Stations Radio Networks; Managing Editor of Billboard R&B Airplay Monitor; editor at Gavin, editor at Impact, R&B Music Editor at Billboard, and careers editor at Essence.