Who ya gonna call? Dyana Williams!

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Williams says she is paid like a high-priced lawyer for her work.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Williams says she is paid like a high-priced lawyer for her work.
Posted: June 04, 2014

YOU'RE a well-known performer or sports figure just out of jail. Or newly exposed in a compromising position.

Or maybe you're the latest overnight sensation, blinded by the spotlights, ill-equipped to deal.

So whatcha gonna do? How you gonna face the music? The gossipmongers? Your future?

When the going gets tough, the tough often call Dyana Williams.

Philadelphians know her best as a seasoned radio personality and advocate for black music, co-host of the "Soulful Sunday" show (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) on "Old School 100.3 FM" (WRNB). She's also known as the national co-developer and drumbeater for the just returned Black Music Month.

But for the diverse crew of musical, acting and sports talents whom she's quietly counseled as a "celebrity strategist" (a/k/a artist development specialist), Williams is a lifeline.

And that goes for everyone from (once) new kids on the block Justin Bieber and Rihanna to heavy-hitting rapper T.I., from Kanye West to the (maybe) next big things like Philly-based rapper Chill Moody and actor/singer Tristan "Mack" Wilds.

Dyana style

So what, exactly, does artist development entail?

Think media coach. Pragmatic business adviser. Surrogate mom. And headmistress of an exclusive, one-on-one finishing school.

Spend quality time with this smart, warmhearted and nurturing woman and you can't help but feel better about yourself. As T.I. succinctly observed in a recent phone interview, "Dyana reads you like an open book."

No surprise to discover that her mother was a professor "teaching public health and nursing." And her stepfather was a psychologist. "I picked up a lot at the dinner table," she shared recently, with a laugh.

Williams likewise learned a lot about the music business from her now ex-hubby and "still best friend," Kenny Gamble, co-founder of Philadelphia International Records and father of their three children.

Williams was first lured into the life-coach calling 20 years ago by Sharon Heyward, then running the black-music division of Virgin Records, and the label's primo producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

From dealing with her as a talent manager, they sensed that Williams' fine appreciation of music, empathetic nature and industry expertise made her a natural career counselor.

"Since then, my phone hasn't stopped ringing," Williams said recently. She was newly returned from a field trip to Flint, Mich. - where she'd worked with a major label's "high priority" heavy metal band - and a New Jersey consult with her first EDM (electronic dance music) connection, Cash Cash.

"Historically, the majority of artists I've worked with have been pop, R&B and hip-hop," she said. People like Usher, Ne-Yo and ASAP Rocky.

"But I crossed over a while ago, first with artists like Dave Matthews and the Zac Brown Band. It's great to take on new challenges, avoid stagnation."

When she started counseling, Williams studied up on Maxine Powell, "the true mother of artist development," who worked in the 1960s with Motown Records' rising stars, many of whom had grown up in the Brewster projects of Detroit.

Powell, who owned a modeling school, "taught the artists how to walk and talk, get out of a car, which fork to use," Williams said. "What I do now is more human etiquette. How to work with people, get your message across, be tactful but never lie - because with the Internet it always comes back to haunt you."

Her T.I. connection

Williams goes back "10 or 11 years" with hip-hop heavy, actor/music mogul/reality-TV star T.I. (a/k/a Clifford Harris Jr.), he shared in a recent conversation.

History being subjective and "something of a blur" for him, T.I. recalled meeting Williams "when I first started my relationship with Atlantic Records."

In a separate chat, Williams remembered getting called in during the "crisis management" period of "T.I.'s difficulties with the law" - gun possession and probation-violation charges. Her role included "handling the courtroom when he was being arraigned."

So, what were the rap star's first impressions of her?

"I thought she was incredibly sharp, eloquent and very savvy in applications of skills to present your messages," T.I. recalled. "Saying what you mean, not fumbling, remembering what your agenda is. We'd do mock interviews. She'd act as the reporter. Then she'd recap and critique what happened."

T.I. got along so famously with Williams, he also signed her up to coach his wife, Tiny (Tameka Cottle Harris), in the group Xscape, and stepdaughter Zonnique, in the OMG Girlz. And when his buddy Michael Vick got out of the slammer after his dogfighting conviction, he had the former Eagle QB call her, too.

Vick's team wound up "hiring someone else," but not before scooping up some pearls of wisdom.

While Vick thought that he was "done with the dog story, I said, 'This will never go away,' " Williams recalled. " 'It will be part of your history until you take your last breath. So, deal with this up front. You bring it up, then keep the conversation moving forward.' "

While "more successful than not" in her efforts, Williams said that her "heart goes out" to teen-idol-gone-wild Bieber, whom she counseled "along with his mom, when his first album was coming out.

"You can't grow up with the whole world watching and not be affected in some ways. I just want to hold him in my arms, pray he gets back on solid ground."

Helping RiRi

Her early guidance of super-songstress Rihanna has also proven a mixed blessing. "First time we met," Williams said, "Rihanna was worried people wouldn't understand her because of her Bahamian accent. I told her that the more time she spent in the U.S., the sooner the accent would dissipate."

Williams also counseled the artist on the "double standard" in the gossip media and urged her to keep her personal life out of the public eye.

"The world is a lot harder on women than men," Williams said. "George Clooney can date 50 women and the TV entertainment show hosts say, 'He's eligible, girls.' If it's a Jennifer Lopez, who had a high-profile relationship with Puffy, then was engaged to Ben Affleck, she's the subject of jokes."

Said the wise counselor: "I urge females to be mindful about guarding and protecting who they love and their relationship. If you're walking the red carpet, do it alone. Focus on your art."

Just for the love

Williams said she earns "as much as a high-priced lawyer" for her wise counsel. But she also does pro bono (free) work for talents she admires and befriends. Like actor/producer/director Lee Daniels ("Monster's Ball," "Precious," "The Butler"), "who is extremely opinionated, unfiltered. It gets him in trouble, just like Kanye, who I also consulted with after the Taylor Swift incident."

Neither man, she added, "really cares about the consequences."

Other current Williams clients are actor Tristan Wilds ("The Wire," "90210"), who has a promising second identity as singer Mack Wilds, and Philly-based hip-hop buzz-maker Chill Moody, a featured talent last weekend at The Roots Picnic.

Williams and Moody connected through their mutual friend Payne Brown (Comcast vice president of strategic initiatives), the rapper shared recently.

"It's more a friendship than a mentorship we've got going, but I do look to Dyana for a lot of jewels - ways to carry myself and amplify what's happening," Moody said. "We've gone to concerts together. She came to my mother's house last July Fourth for a cookout. It's like we're family, now."

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