About 30 minutes before I spoke with Terrie Williams, bestselling author, mental health advocate and founder of the Terrie Williams Agency, my editor-in-chief threw the interview in my lap.
“She’s going to call you at 5 o’ clock,” Datwon Thomas said. “Ask her any and everything about Prince.”
At the Vibe offices, we were frantically trying to juggle how to cover the breaking news of Prince’s unexpected passing with our own grief, sadness, and if we’re being honest, a sense of abandonment. Michael was gone. Whitney was gone and now Prince. We didn’t know just two days after his death, his body would be cremated and a private ceremony would be held. If we did, maybe we’d savor our tears and hug one another a little tighter as we wallow in the agony of it all. It was too much to digest and work through, and now I was to ask one of the industry’s most sought after figures how she was coping.
Not a minute after five, Ms. Williams–who insisted on being called by her first name–was on the phone. With deep sighs and through thoughtful commentary, Terrie expressed her admiration for a man who she referred to as gracious, kind and despite being larger than life on stage, was surprisingly down-to-earth.
Still knee deep in my own disbelief, I was caught off guard with the way the name Miles, as in Miles Kind of Blue Davis rolled off her tongue. There was a familiarity in her voice that was divorced of the reverence most fans have of the famed musician. This isn’t to say she didn’t appreciate his music, but the two worked together and were fast comrades, so I guess seeing his genius from the lens of friendship allowed for the mystique of stardom to fade, and in its place, a shoulder shrug with a bit of a humble brag sprinkled on top when she referred to him as Miles and not just Miles Davis.
It was because of Davis she was first introduced to Prince, which is a story in itself. After I mentally gathered the prestigious elbows she’s rubbed, we were able to talk, and just like everyone else who used Prince’s music to get through, she too realized 57 years just wasn’t enough.
VIBE: So why don’t you tell me how you met Prince?
Terrie M. Williams: I met him through Miles Davis who was a very good friend and client of mine and–
I’m sorry. Hold on. You said you met Prince through Miles Davis?
Yes. (Laughs) Miles was a very dear friend and client of mine.
Oh sh-t. Okay. Continue.
You’re so funny.
About what time was this?
Oh gosh! Boy oh boy you had to go there.
This had to be a good–I started [the agency] in’88 and Miles and Eddie Murphy were my first two clients and Miles and I sort of became friends. We were in LA and we went to something, to some club, I don’t remember what it was and Prince was there and that’s how I met him. This was definitely in the late 80s, like ’88 or something like that, and that was where I first met him. The second time that I met him was when the agency was retained to secure urban outreach for Prince’s Welcome To America tour, which was at Madison Square Garden and New Jersey.
I’m sorry Terrie. When you said you were trying to secure urban outreach, you were trying to secure black publications?
Yes, and that was just really it because I had this kinship with him. What I know is that there are people who have a tendency to disrespect black media.
Like, for example, I always just say same “bougie negroes” who will never even pick up a black newspaper. Black media is the heartbeat of our community and to exclude us in anyway is not cool. But that was something that I was pleasantly surprised to just know that he felt passionately about.
Why were you surprised?
Because I didn’t know him know him, you know what I’m saying? I’ve represented a lot of people and sometimes over the years, I’ve had to convince clients about the significance of black media. So it was just a pleasant surprise to know he cared and that it was vital to him that we were part of the mix and that just spoke volumes.
There was this running joke “Don’t look into Prince’s eyes.” But you worked with him, what kind of person was he when he wasn’t on a stage or wasn’t in a studio?
Interestingly, given the stage presence and him being considered controversial, he really in his heart was a private person, gentle I would say and very caring, and I would say a humanitarian at heart. A very thoughtful conversationalist. I remember when we were waiting for him to. It was…something was in the mix. I don’t remember exactly what it was. He was a real thoughtful conversationalist and we talked with one of my colleagues from the agency and the guy who retained us from Live Nation, and he just talked for like two or three hours discussing everything from children, his religion, his philanthropic work and his dedication to his work. I was pleasantly surprised that he was so genuine, down-to-earth and accommodating to everybody he worked with, and wanted to make sure that you were comfortable.
That was like somebody who just had some good home training.
(laughs) I’m definitely here for people who have good home training.
You know what I’m saying?
Where were you when you found out the news? And what was your first reaction?
I kind of sort of felt like I was knocked senseless. He was such an extraordinary talent who had such a profound impact on many people. The tears just swelled up. It was like another one gone. Another gentle soul gone because, you know I did get acquainted with that side. Sometimes you see people a little bit larger than life, but at the same time, I’m a social worker by training, and so I always feel who people are.
It’s not just what people say. It’s how they move through the world and how they carry themselves. So the fact that everybody matters, you know. It’s not just about because you’re so-and-so and so-and-so. He seemed to be a genuine kind of spirit. I was able to see that. I was just grateful to be able to experience him as a regular person who just cared about people and wanted to make sure that we were okay and had something to drink or eat.
What do you think Prince’s legacy will be?
There’s a few lines that I always go to and I can’t remember where I saw it. I thought of it today. I’ll just share it with you: we never know what a person’s journey is, but what I will say is God chose earthly vessels like Prince to hold his most valuable jewels because his light shined best in ordinary people. That was just something that I read before and it touched me and it made me think about him because that’s what he did.
I think for a lot people, these great musicians who’s they’ve never met, they kind of feel like their music has been the soundtrack to their orbit
Oh, very well said.
Thank you. I’ve never met Prince. A lot of people have never met Miles Davis but their songs have always kind of been there. Now that they’re physically not here it feels like a genuine loss. There are some huge Prince fans that are in tears now. What advice do you have for them? Or do you think we’ll have another?
There will be new and different voices and spirits that will touch minds and hearts, but there’s only one Miles. There’s only one Prince.