*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!
WHITNEY HOUSTON: Remembering an Icon and an Idol
By Gwendolyn Quin
When I started my career in the music business, there were three people I wanted to work with: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince. Two out of three isn’t bad.
By 1996, I was eight months into a senior PR position at a major record label. I was sitting in my office feeling depressed over the wrong choice I had made. I was on the phone with my mentor and friend, Jackie Rhinehart, complaining about my job. Jackie, who was then employed at Arista, was also ready to move into her new position at Universal Records. However, she couldn’t leave Arista until her boss was satisfied with a replacement. As the conversation progressed, Jackie asked me if I wanted to interview for her position. I said, “Hell yeah.”
I was so nervous about the interview because I was still under contract. I interviewed with Michele Mena (now Cucci) and she immediately wanted me for the position. She later said, “When I saw you with that big hair and fur coat, I knew you would be right for the position.” (At the time, I was sporting a Whitneyesqe “do”) Well, I got out of my contract (another story) and started with Arista Records in 1996 as the Senior National Director of Publicity. I had made it to the big time! A roster of superstars! The opportunity to work with Whitney Houston, Clive Davis, Aretha Franklin and others!
I have been a life-long fan of Whitney Houston ever since I heard “You Give Good Love.” Like all the other young black women in America and the world over, I followed her career, brought all her records and copied most of her hairstyles. When I started at Arista, Whitney was already an international icon and the biggest superstar I’d ever worked with at that point.
Working on Whitney’s project was always an event. In addition to the Arista team, I worked closely with the Nippy team—Lynne Volkman and Donna Houston. They were great to work with and always looked out for me during my tenure there and for many years after I left the company.
I arrived at Arista at the tail end of The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack. I had the opportunity to work on My Love Is Your Love and Whitney: The Greatest Hits CD projects.
There were wonderful times at Arista during the Golden Years. It was an end of an era. A few of my fond memories working on Whitney’s projects were going to her New Jersey estate for a cover magazine interview. I also attended the HBO special at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, Arista’s 25th Anniversary TV special and all of Clive’s Pre-GRAMMY events. I worked closely with Don Cornelius to secure her for a special appearance on the Soul Train Music Awards. I will never forget the CD listening event Clive orchestrated for the My Love Is Your Love CD launch and the music video of “Heartbreak Hotel,” featuring Faith Evans and Kelly Price in Miami. Also, I organized a special press dinner for black media at Mr. Chow’s Restaurant in New York City.
One of the things I thought was most genuine about Whitney was her love for new and developing talent—especially at the label (i.e. Monica, Deborah Cox, Faith Evans, Brandy and Kelly Price). She loved them and they loved her!
Whitney was an old school pro! She was one of the most professional artists that I ever worked with—always came prepared and arrived on time. She was personable, positive and gracious. She made it an amazing experience for everyone. And that smile!
Whitney would also send awesome gifts and beautiful notes. I will cherish the memories of her beautiful and gracious spirit!
RIP Whitney! I will always love you! Gwendolyn Quinn.