Dyana Williams On The 45th Anniversary of Black Music Month and How Black Media Can Create Change 

For over 50 years, the acclaimed disc jockey has used her voice and platforms to inspire the Black community.

For more than five decades, Dyana Williams has been a trailblazer in the media world. A native of Harlem, Williams had been a radio disc jockey, journalist, community activist, artist development coach, documentarian, and a self-described “servant of the Black community.”

As a radio personality, Williams worked at flagship stations in New York City, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia, lending her signature soothing voice to the airwaves in some of the largest markets in the nation.

Williams has also been a correspondent for Black Entertainment Television (BET) and a music consultant for “The Soul” on VH1. Since 2008, she's been giving her expert commentary on TV One’s award-winning music documentary series “Unsung.”

As CEO of Influence Entertainment, she heads one of the leading media and entertainment consulting companies in the country. She has provided media training and coaching for an array of clients including  Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Fantasia, ASAP Rocky, Spotify, Tidal, Motown, UNCF, and The City of Philadelphia just to name a few.

Among her many accolades, Williams was listed as #7 on the "Top 20 Black Radio Jockeys of All Time" by News One, and recognized her as #8 on the "Top 30 Black Women in Media.

Black Music Month 2024: The New Guardians of Rock spoke with Williams about the creation of Black Music Month and launching her remarkable media career as a teenager.

“I got my first check in 1973 when I was hired at 96.3 WHUR-FM in Washington D.C. on the eve of my 19th birthday. Before that, I was on WBAI which is a listener-supported radio in New York Pacifica. I need to give a little bit more credit to my former boyfriend Hubert Laws. He used to say to me all the time that I had a great voice and that I should start doing radio at City College in New York,” Williams recalled. “We had a jazz show that went all over campus and all through Harlem. So it was there where the seeds were first planted.”

After honing her voice and talents, in D.C,  Williams accepted an offer in 1975 to go back home to New York and work with the legendary disc jockey/programmer Frankie Crocker who helped make WBLS the top station in the city.

“I graduated from Frankie Crocker University. When I left to go to WBLS, we programmed our own music. We were hired not just to execute the format, but also to elevate the format with our knowledge of music,” Williams said. “At WBLS, Frankie Crocker programmed the music, but he was a brilliant programmer. We played all Black music. We were playing reggae, gospel, Miles Davis On the Corner, Nikki Giovanni’s poetry, George Clinton, go-go, Bob Marley, and everything else. The lines were blurred in terms of genres.’

Eventually, Williams began working on air at 105.3 WDAS-FM in Philadelphia, where she launched the show “Love’s on the Menu” and began a long-term relationship with Kenny Gamble, the co-founder of Philadelphia International Records. During this time, Williams and Gamble began to ideate about how they could honor the contributions of Black music. 

Black Music Month 2024: The Black Pioneers of Rock

“Gamble went to Nashville and saw how the Country Music Association galvanized all aspects of the country music genre but we all know that’s Black people’s stuff. He said we needed something like that for the Black music industry. He had a meeting at La Costa in California with Berry Gordy, Leon Huff, Dick Griffey, and a lot of the powerhouse leaders in Black music at that time,” Williams said.“He believed they could create an organization that would advocate for artists, songwriters, producers, and session musicians so they would be paid properly. Gamble moved forward and created the Black Music Association,” Williams continued. “The BMA would be the driving entity for the creation of Black Music Month. Ed Wright, a prominent DJ out of Cleveland who recently transitioned, led the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers and he joined us in working on Black Music Month.”

In addition to Williams, Gamble, and Wright, the late Clarence Avant, also known as the “Black Godfather”, was instrumental in getting Black Music Month recognized by the federal government.

“Clarence Avant made the call to the Jimmy Carter administration and asked if we would have an event like the Country Music Association had at the White House every October,” she said. “We declared that June was  Black Music Month and President Carter hosted the first event of Black Music Month on the South Lawn of the White House on June 7, 1979. I was there with Gamble as a guest of the President and his wife, Rosalyn.”

Interestingly, an administrative error by President Carter led to Black Music Month not being recognized by presidents who succeeded him although Williams hosted events for years afterward.

“President Carter forgot to sign a presidential proclamation and I didn't learn that until the late 90s. I wrote to President Bill Clinton and I asked him to host an event much like Jimmy Carter had. So the White House looked in the archives and discovered that Jimmy Carter declared June as Black Music Month but he didn't sign the Presidential Proclamation. I asked, 'What does that mean because we've been celebrating Black Music Month for years.’ They said, ‘Get legislation from Congress, come back to us and President Clinton will sign a proclamation that he and every American president will recognize June as Black Music Month’.”

Never one to give up, Williams worked tirelessly and lobbied Congress along with Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah to officially recognize Black Music Month in the late ’90s.

“After a lot of work, Congressman Chaka Fattah introduced the bill to the House of Representatives and it was passed as House Resolution 509 in 2000,” Williams remembered.

In celebration of Black Music Month this year, Williams is curating several programs and speaking across the country about her vision. She’s also producing the 2024 Wawa Welcome America Independence Day concert in Philadelphia on July 4 that Ne-Yo is headlining. For Williams, Black Music Month is more than a recognition for those who created the music--it is also for the music lovers who support the culture and to spotlight the inequalities that still permeate the industry.

“There are hardly any Black music divisions anymore. There's no parity or equity, especially when Black women executives are not paid the same as their white counterparts are,” Williams said. “There's an abundance of inequity in the industry and that's part of the effort of Black Music Month which we want to do every day. We want to bring attention to the inequities that still exist in our industry and how those things can be corrected.”

“Black Music is American music. Every American regardless of their melanin, is proud of something that was created by Black people. We're talking about rock and white people have their brand and that's all good,” she continued. “Everything is here for interpretation but I don't like the appropriation part of it and when we don't get the compensation and recognition for the contributions that we’ve made.”

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