*The recent death of Whitney Houston has left many of us in deep sorrow.
In this five part series, “African American Publicists Remember Whitney Houston,” Whitney’s former label [Arista Records] publicists Ken Reynolds, Tracey Jordan, Mary Moore, Jackie Rhinehart and Gwendolyn Quinn recall the genius and brilliance of a one-of-a- kind icon—one of the best voices of all time! (Unfortunately Audrey LaCatis Onyeike was not able to submit an essay at press time.)
RIP Whitney Houston! We miss you and will always love you!
“Whitney Houston: Remains the Same”
By Kenneth R. Reynolds
It was during the mid 70’s when I returned back to Manhattan from Barcelona , Spain. While working with veteran African American Producer, Ellis B Haizlip. I was introduced to an incredible songstress, Cissy Houston. She was known for singing background for Elvis, Aretha, and many others. She worked around isle of Manhattan quite a bit and had a steady following of fans with just as many celebrities. Her rendition of the Jerry Butler classic “Make It Easy On Yourself” should be archived somewhere!
Fifteen years later, while working as Director of R&B Product Manager for Arista Records in New York City, I was not surprised at all to learn that my first project would be to work with the Arista team to develop a marketing plan for their newly signed artist, Whitney Houston. CBS Records, PolyGram Records, and a couple of boutique PR firms, is where I made my first impression, so people still assumed that I had been Whitney’s publicist. Also, coupled with the fact that Arista did not have a Black pr person, I did work very cohesively with Melanie Rodgers in bringing Whitney to Susan Taylor at Essence Magazine, Bob Johnson at Johnson Publishing, and a few other major Black publications.
My first meeting with Whitney was to help her put together her personal thank you credits for the record. She was meeting me in my office at Arista. I didn’t find her particularly warm but she was on time, which is a rarity for an artist. I took a moment and explained to her that we needed to complete the credits for her album, and we were missing her “personals.” So, I said to her, “Let’s begin with Clive and Gerry Griffith,” and then we went down the list of the people at the company we felt she should acknowledge. When we got to me she said, “Oh yeah, Ken Reynolds, I’ve heard about you, I’m looking forward to working with you!” And that is what ended up on her personal list of credits.
After that comment the ice was broken and for the next couple of hours we laughed and talked about the many mutual friends we had in common. We spent a lot time talking about the thirty city promotional tour that was coming up for her. She was nervous and excited at the same time, but I assured her that I would be with her to give her confidence.
Our first stop on the promotional tour was Washington , DC , where the first event was to dine with radio moguls, Cathy Hughes and her son, Alfred Liggens. In a private dining room at the Shoreham Hotel, the four of us drank champagne, dined grandly, and laughed a lot as the sounds of here debut album, “Whitney,” provided the perfect background setting for the “launch” dinner party.”
A very young Alfred Liggins, was totally smitten with the lady and her music. As the evening was coming to a close, Liggens leaned over to me and said, “Reynolds: the music on this album is like the soundtrack to my life……”
Who knew then, that was to become a phrase that would be used over and over again from many, many people since that evening, and as recent as her bittersweet home going!