*When Brooklyn, New York native DeBorah B. Pryor found herself in the offices of The Black American , a small print newspaper in Harlem in the early 1970’s, little did she know what she was getting herself into. Young, pretty, and determined, all she knew was that she wanted to write stories and get into people’s heads.
She also knew she wanted those people to be celebrities; and with the Blaxploitation era in full bloom at the time, she set her sights on the stars from that era; along with the top artists in music at the time.
But Pryor was adamant about one thing, she didn’t want to meet these people as a fan. While she garnered the same excitement as anyone else meeting someone famous, she wasn’t really down with the stigma that came with it. The one that claims girl fans were easy to get in bed. And the whole ‘hungry for attention’ thing. She knew she was smart and had a good mind; great powers of persuasion, and an innate ability to draw people in, get them to trust her, and get the information she wanted for her story.
And more than anything she wanted to write her stories from a humble point of view. Balancing the person’s humanity with their celebrity so the public would respect the individual more as a “person” and less as an “object.”
“I’ve had and continue to have such an amazing ride in this field. Some of my very first interviews took place backstage at The Apollo Theater in Harlem,” Pryor tells Electronic Urban Report publisher, Lee Bailey, who she first started working with in 2003 after seeing him for years at press functions. “I was so green. I didn’t even know the aesthetics of how to carry myself as a journalist. Oh god,” she laughs, “I can remember actually taking a puff off of a joint that was offered to me by George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic during our interview in some small office upstairs at the Apollo. He and the band were all very nice and respectful. Nothing weird at all. But I remember feeling like I didn’t want to hurt their feelings by declining their offer,” she laughs.
“I never did that again though,” she gushes.
Pryor’s rise as an entertainment journalist was almost meteoric. Without a lot of competition from other African American publications at the time, soon her features in The Black American were getting noticed by the right people and she quickly became known for her fluid flair with words, and a comfortable and easy interview style (which she says never never changed) which always seemed to get deep at some point.
And she loved the fact the celebrities enjoyed talking with her too!
She quickly gained access to some of the biggest stars of the time. And performed interviews with groups such as Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Sly & The Family Stone (who she would end up working as a personal assistant for) and local groups like the fabulous young trio, Black Ivory.
Soon Pryor was the “go-to girl” being sought out to interview the stars of the big films at the time: Vonetta McGee and Max Julien – who were starring in “Thomasine & Bushrod” — along with the film’s director, Gordon Parks, Jr. Actor Glynn Turman was doing “Five on the Black Hand Side,” Ron O’Neal was doing “Superfly,” Calvin Lockhart was doing “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” Pam Grier was doing “Coffy,” and Melba Moore and Clifton Davis, who were doing their Live TV show together.
Ironically, Pryor, who took a break from journalism and was focused more on theatre in the 90’s, would later live in the same building (“The Versailles” on 6th off Wilshire in Los Angeles) that both Calvin Lockhart and Pam Grier resided in. And though she admits she never actually saw the very private Lockhart during her time there, she often ran into Grier, who she says always carried her little dog in her arms, at the outside trash disposal area.
El and James DeBarge also lived in the building at that time. And Pryor says she would often find herself riding up in the elevator with El, who would always look down and never speak.
Pryor recalls the time she met ex-Beatle, the late John Lennon, in Central Park — around the time he and wife Yoko Ono were just coming off of their iconic “Bed-In for-Peace” event.
She laughs thinking back.
“At that time, things were not as sophisticated electronically as they are now, you know. So it wasn’t like I could just whip out my Smartphone and press record. I was fumbling around in my purse for my notebook and pen because I wasn’t officially working that day. I was hanging out with my boyfriend and saw John and was like, ‘Oh my effing god, that’s John Lennon!’ and forgot all about my poor boyfriend and ran over to John talking about ‘I’m a journalist with The Black American!’
Thinking back I must’ve looked like a crazy woman, with this huge afro blowing in the wind as I ran towards him, calling out.
I remember him being so gracious and sweet. And he smelled good!,” Pryor says about her meeting John Lennon. “He chuckled (probably wondering why I wanted to talk to him, so obviously NOT a black American). He extended his hand warmly. I recall us having a nice few minutes together. And to this day it is one of the highlights of my career.”
Of course since that time Pryor has gone on to perform interviews with a number of legendary people — both domestically and internationally. She has gone to South Africa; traveled to the West Indies with rapper Chuck D. and a group of dignitaries, to cover a political event. And even found herself in an interesting encounter with Earth, Wind & Fire bassist, Verdine White, who talked with her about Yoga, and his decades-long practice of it, while they were stuck on a plane runway together.
“Verdine is such a warm and gentle spirit of a person. There is no one like him,” she recalls. White and E W&F had performed at a music festival I covered in Montego Bay. And by the time I got to them, trying to conduct a quick interview, they were tired and didn’t want to talk to me. So you can imagine his embarrassment when he came to sit down on the plane, and made eye contact with me, in the seat directly behind him. When I reminded him of the incident, ’cause he was looking like, ‘I know you from somewhere,’ he laughed and apologized.
But it’s funny how things work out. I got the interview anyway due to plane engine trouble!,” she recalls. “Somewhere between Montego Bay and Los Angeles, our aircraft had to divert and we landed safely somewhere but had to sit on the runway for at least an hour. So what’s left to do? Talk with a fully-rested Verdine White! We had a blast and as usual, by the time we parted ways, his personal number was in my phone with a promise to stay-in-touch.”
And she relays a similar experience about Stevie Wonder (pictured with Pryor below at Los Angeles’ Savoy Entertainment Center).
DeBorah admits that today, after providing coverage at just about every major Awards program, with more than 400 published articles from her work as West Coast Editor with Sidney Miller’s Black Radio Exclusive and as Resident Theatre Critic and Editor with Electronic Urban Report (EURweb), it is probably easier for her to name those she has not interviewed, than those that she has.
“But you know what I am most proud of Lee?” she asks. “The trust that these people bestow upon me when we speak. I enjoy developing the relationship so the interview will flow naturally and comfortably for everyone involved. It’s not like I’m without an agenda. I just hate dry, formal, Q&A-type interviews. I’ve never been a dry, formal person so why would that change when I work?”
DeBorah B. Pryor (pictured above) with rapper, Chuck D., in Dominica, West Indies
She continues, “I feel so blessed and grateful to have a good, pleasant energy. At the end of the day it’s how you make people feel. The person. That is what we’re dealing with, right? People…human beings? Not objects. I try to remember that at all times.”
But Pryor admits that she has also had to push hard sometimes during interviews and yes, she has had her share of trouble doing so.
Like the time poet-musician Gil Scott-Heron, someone she idolized, wrote her a scathing letter cussing her out for her article on him; where he said she “insinuated he had a drug problem.”
Heron, whose iconic hits include “The Bottle,” “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and “Winter In America,” has had a well-documented history of drug use, and passed away at the age of 62 in 2011.
At the time Pryor was working with BRE Magazine and although publisher Sidney Miller wanted to publish the letter, she was so embarrassed and hurt, she refused.
Today she laughs and says, “Where’s that damn letter? I’d definitely have it published!”
An adjunct instructor of communications at UCLA Extension; where she teaches two workshops she designed called, “Public Speaking for the Private Person,” and “How to Talk to Anybody,” Pryor names among her own journalist inspirations, former Essence Editor-in-Chief, Susan L. Taylor, and former Entertainment Tonight Host, Mary Hart, who she says she only got to meet recently.
Now as she nears the age of 62, DeBorah is glad to finally start work on her book, “Writing to The Beat of My Own Drum: My Two-Step with the Entertainment Legends.” She is also beyond excited to offer her upcoming workshop, “MEET THE CELEBRITIES ON YOUR OWN TERMS: Enter the World of Entertainment Journalism,” to a new generation of aspiring entertainment writers. The 8-week workshop, which begins on Wednesday, October 7 and goes through to Wednesday, November 25, will take place in the historic “NoHo Arts District” in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.
Shaking her head in empathetic fashion, DeBorah admits, “It’s tough getting into the entertainment business as a journalist today. Especially in a place like Los Angeles, where the competition is so crazy. Celebrities and their publicists have their favorites and if you’re not on that list, you can forget about it. It’s definitely a ‘who you know’ kind of thing.”
“But at the end of the day, it’s all about the work. And persistence. And tough skin. Hell, you’ve got to be diabolical! she laughs. “So I’m going to talk about ‘breaking through’ the seemingly impossible odds. Because of my tenure, and the fact that I am still active in the field –with a platform, and the skill-set and wisdom to back it up.”
DeBorah with comedian/actor, Chris Tucker (pictured above). Tucker is father to her grandson, Destin. In this picture the two enjoy one of the teen’s school hockey games.
In the workshop she says, “We’re going to cover a lot. It’s a workshop for people who seriously want to get into this field so, slouches: don’t even bother!” she states adamantly! “You will learn how to “spin” a news story and make it yours; how to approach interviews, writing for specific target audiences, the difference between working in print or on TV, how to develop good relationships, and how to write engaging stories.
Participants will even learn Word Press; an invaluable lesson in itself, because 95% of the online publications work from the Word Press app today. I learned that from you, Lee,” she says.
“Ooh, I am so excited!” says Pryor, an animated and passionate speaker, with a great voice that was most likely developed during her nearly two decades as a stage actor. “We’re going to have reps stop in from a variety of publications to talk about opportunities in the business; we will have entertainment from celebrity musician friends, and maybe even go on an exciting field trip or two, to see the behind-the-scenes aesthetics involved with working in a busy newsroom.”
As we talk I think, it’s hard to believe this woman was ever shy. But she says she was, and that it is why she got into theatre in the first place. So that she could get over it and do the job she was meant to do.
Apparently, it worked.
“Hey, I say this with all humility, and anyone who has taken one of my classes will confirm: any workshop with me is going to be anything BUT dull,” she says. “They will have the most incredible homework assignments. And by the time the workshop is over, they will have greater knowledge, stronger skills, and their own website; with content they can be proud to share with potential employers.”
To learn more about the workshop, “MEET THE CELEBRITIES ON YOUR OWN TERMS”: Enter the World of Entertainment Journalism, call (626) 428-1870 or Email: [email protected]
To REGISTER online visit PayPal. Once on the PayPal site, create an account, and “Pay for Goods & Services” utilizing the email: “[email protected]”
IMPORTANT: The EARLY BIRD cost (until September 15) is $309.27 but goes up to $360.76 beginning September 16. The cost includes PayPal fees.
Registration closes October 1.