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Out Magazine: Meet the People Behind Beyoncé

Klaudia//April 9, 2014
Angela Beyince
Vice President of Operations, Parkwood Entertainment

“As a child, I spent every single summer with Beyoncé and Solange. The last day of school, Aunt Tina would pick me up, then they dropped me off home the night before the first day of school. I’d go to watch Beyonce perform, and she was probably 5 years old—beauty pageants, whatever Houston had, she was there performing with a mic in her hand. I mean, she loved it, but there was still something very unique and pretty, something different from all the other 5-year-olds who sang their favorite songs. In some ways, she was kind of shy. I think she understood then that she had a great voice, because I think when you sing it’s something you feel. You can feel your voice box, the vibrations; you can hear it. But she was never overt. She didn’t walk into a room, and be like, ‘Hey, check this out, look what I can do.’ No, she was very humble and quiet. If she was asked to sing, she gladly did it, even if she wasn’t in the mood. You know, family is proud. We’d go visit other relatives and she would be playing like a normal kid, and then, ‘Hey, come sing this song for my friend.’ She’d say, ‘OK.’ And then she’d go sing to them, and then she’d go back and play. She never reveled in it. She’d went back to being a kid.

"I do believe that if she could sing under a secret identity and still affect people and touch their lives that she’d rather not be famous. That, if she had her choice, she’d rather take off her shoes and do cartwheels in the park. That’s really who she’d like to be. But unfortunately that’s something you give up when you become as famous as she is. We’ve tried it many times. We tried it in London a few summers ago—Tina, Solange, and myself. We were riding bikes and just hanging out, and Beyoncé was at the hotel and was, like, "I’m coming!" And we waited, and she got there and arrived with a big crowd of people behind her. We tried to ignore it, but even in that moment she said, "You guys enjoy the day and I’m going to go." And she left. But she doesn’t complain about it. This is what she was born to do and she’s loved it since she was a kid. She never takes it for granted. She appreciates every second of it. It’s like she’s painting a piece of art. Until the last color is on the canvas, she’s not done. Until it’s dry and it’s amazing and it’s finished and it’s up hanging on the wall, she’s not done.”

Jim Sabey
Head of Worldwide Marketing, Parkwood Entertainment

“I was born and raised in Seattle. I grew up in a conservative family and I think that at that time, the fear and insecurity and all of the things that go along with being a young gay person in that environment, music became my refuge. It was something I was passionate about, and something I really enjoyed and could escape into. There was a radio station called KYYX in Seattle that was all very new wave, all the time. There was a lot of The Cure, New Order, and Missing Persons. I was able to sneak out of my conservative microcosm and be part of an alternative community, and so the development process for me happened really early on. I majored in international business at Georgetown, and went to Paris for about a year. What I learned through that experience is that you can pick yourself up and put yourself in any situation and figure it out. You just have to force yourself out of your comfort zone.

I really embraced the fact that I was gay when I lived in Paris, but I didn’t really come out until I moved to New York and worked for my first boss in the international department at Columbia Records. He was gay, so it was a real epiphany: OK, I want be that. He’s out and he has a boyfriend and he leads a normal life and he’s not a flamboyant caricature of what a gay person is suppose to be.

The first artist I ever worked with was Maxwell, as a product manager, on Urban Hang Suite. I love that record. It’s super emotional. I specifically took American brands and worked them oversees, so I met the Destiny’s Child ladies when they first were signed. Beyoncé was very shy back then. Kelly was much more the talker and outgoing. And I took them on my first promo trip, actually, to Amsterdam, Paris, and London. It was their first introduction to going overseas. What was interesting was Matthew Knowles, who is the manager for Destiny’s Child, came from Xerox and from the understanding that the world is a big place. And he’d done a lot of work with Xerox in Holland at the time, and what he understood from the very beginning was in order to succeed you had to compete as a local artist in each of those markets.

I think on the first record we did, like, seven promo trips. On the second record, we did 14 promo trips. And I loved battling all the foreign gatekeepers, who said, "Well, that’s urban—that only works in America." I remember of taking the president of the Spanish companies to a club in Madrid, and all the kids are in love with all these great, urban-leaning pop records. It was one of those, ‘Dude, you don’t even know what’s going on in your own market’ moments. You have all these sort of older, for lack of a better term, straight dudes who think they know what the world wants in music. And they have no idea. That’s the big fundamental shift that’s happened in the last the years. And frankly it’s why this company exists.

What Beyoncé understood early on, when she wanted to make a change, was that the industry fundamentally has changed, and that you can communicate directly to your fans. You don’t need to go through the promotional pipeline that, 20 years ago, really prevented people from being exposed to all kinds of music. I watched Columbia go from a huge company to a fairly small company. That was a challenging time period and it takes a real positive mental state of being to be able to go through downsizing, but what’s interesting about today’s opportunities is that people are enjoying music more than they ever enjoyed music. What’s changed for the better is that concept of manufacturing pop that happened in the '90s, when big budgets could take anyone into the studio and turn them into the next Madonna—you can’t fake that anymore. If a particular social media platform isn’t authentic to you, the fans will see through it. I think that’s the great democratization of the Internet—it exposes the frauds.

Now I’m going to sound totally cheesy at this point, but I went to Australia to present the Roseland DVD—this was when Beyoncé was pregnant, and the “I Was Here” portion of that DVD tells a great story of special moments in her life. There was a young lady in it, named Chelsea, who Beyoncé had pulled out of the crowd at a show during her Sasha Fierce period. Somehow, word had come back to us that Chelsea had passed away, because she had a very rare, very complicated condition. And so I called the record company to get in touch with her mother to get clearance, because we wanted to include some of that show that was a big moment in Beyoncé’s life, and a part of Chelsea’s life. We found out that Chelsea was still alive; the information was incorrect. And so Beyoncé asked me to do a private screening of the DVD for Chelsea when I was in Australia since Beyoncé was stuck here, in New York.

So I did this private screening with Chelsea: Here’s this young girl who just has been through hell and back, and continues to live in it, every single day with this terrible disease. She got up and did the “Single Ladies” dance. And I almost burst into tears—and I’m not the most bleeding heart person you will meet. I remember emailing Beyoncé that night, because she does a lot with the Make A Wish Foundation, a lot of things we don’t spend a lot of time publicizing, and I sort of said to her, ‘I don’t know how you do this. I’m emotionally a wreck, and I’ve only done this once, but you can change people’s lives.’ And it’s exciting, it’s cool, it’s fun. I don’t have to go to a bank everyday.”

Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood
Digital Strategy at Parkwood Entertainment

"I saw the Jackson 5 when I was 6 years old at Dodgers Stadium. I’ll never forget it. It was their last tour together, the 'Victory Tour.' And that’s kind of how I feel when I see Beyonce live. Her ability to perform is just unparalleled. I’ve seen a lot of shows over my time and you can’t help but compare from other things you’ve seen in the past and her ability to come up there and perform day-in and day-out, at that level all the time is mind-blowing. We all work really hard here but nobody works as hard as she does. She is incredibly tuned into her own brand, which is not a given all the time. I think a lot of artists are often unsure about what they like and what they don’t like and unsure if their creative ideas are worth sharing, but she has a very distinct idea of what she likes and doesn’t like, and she will share it and vocalize it and expect you to execute on that concept or idea. And she does it in a really seamless way.

"I started my career as an assistant at Def Jam in the 1990s, and I did a multitude of jobs like we all did back in the record label days. And then I went on to manage our non-music Def Jam businesses on behalf of Russell Simmons, Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles, the three of them—who still to this day own the brand. Those were things like video games partnerships and apparel partnerships, or working with mobile partners. But I was much involved in our video game efforts, which lasted about eight or so years with console game makers, Electronic Arts and Konami and that’s how I got into the tech space and learned everything I never wanted to know about how to make video game products.

"When I arrived here, I was not aware of the plans until about a week into it when Leanne says, “I think you need to get on a plane with us and come to this meeting in San Francisco,” and I was like, “Sure.” I know a lot of the folks at iTunes and all the other tech companies there, and we went to this meeting and it was, “OK, this is what we’re doing.” I thought it was a brilliant idea and, of course, scary because you never know how it’s going to be received, but I don’t think that anybody here doubted for a moment that it wasn’t going to be right.

"I caught myself singing 'Drunk in Love,' without realizing it, one weekend when I was out and about with my husband and kids. My husband was, like, 'What is that?' and I was, like, 'Nothing.' For me it was just easier not to talk about it at all. I didn’t even tell him; he had no idea this was coming together. Nobody knew. I don’t think anybody here told anybody, so I knew that that record was one of my favorites because I was mentally replaying it in my head without even thinking about it. That’s when you know you have a hit. The way music is distributed is so greatly different than what it was in the '80s and '90s. So you don’t have those iconic three or four albums a year—even less at that time—you have 400 albums that came out in a year and you have to remember what you listened to and a lot of it has to do with what your friends are listening to, and talking about, and how young people are sharing it on social networks, and it just becomes a whole different kind of conversation. But I think this album for sure is going stand out as a major moment.

"At launch, the challenge was how to ensure that all of the content became available immediately to the widest number of people at the exact same moment. It’s incredibly challenging when you’re talking about 14 audio tracks and 17 video tracks. From a technological standpoint how do you do that? We were able to flip the switch on a new website at midnight, and when we did that, we included all of the audio tracks and clips of each of the videos that were also immediately available on YouTube. All of that pushed out alongside a Facebook post that went to the entire 60 or so million Facebook fans that are currently in Beyonce’s sphere, and they all shared. So the 'virality' of that was pretty huge. It was a huge team effort. On the digital side, there are some little things that we do to sort of keep the conversation going. For example, when the album came out we released two full-length videos via YouTube—'Drunk in Love' and 'XO,' but then we held the other back, so they were only available as 30-second clips. Now, of course many people post them, they’ll buy the album, they rip the video from the DVD and then they’ll post them on YouTube, but we do spend a lot of time pulling those down.

"I’m the newest of the bunch, and I think and what is apparent is that everyone here works as hard as necessary to make sure that the job gets done and there’s never an instance where you have to worry about someone doing something that might not be best for the Beyonce brand, it’s not even a question. I think ultimately, the diversity of the group reflects those who are really great at what they do and I don’t think she cares less about who you are, where you come from, what you look like, what you do at home. It’s just really about can you do the job, do it well and ensure there’s nothing to worry about."

Ty Hunter

“I call Bey and Solange and all the girls in Destiny’s Child my sisters. The family is just, you know, humble—not what people think it is. The picture is ‘diva, diva, diva,’ but I’ve been here this long because she’s not.”

Ed Burke
Visual Director at Parkwood Entertainment

“I first met Beyoncé 10 years ago. I was working in an art studio for a crazy artist who’s basically documented his life, his shop, for 30 years. I worked with him for a long time, and then a friend of the family called me up and said, 'Do you want to work for me?' I said, 'Yeah, sure.' He said, 'Go pick up a camera. You are shooting Beyoncé.' Never heard of her. So I walk into the place, and she walks past me. And I'm like ‘Hey,’ and she’s, like, ‘Hey,’ and her assistant at the time, Angie, said, ‘Are you Ed? That was Beyoncé.” So I said, 'Oh cool,' and I started shooting. That was the first time I shot her. From there, I was her videographer for seven years. I followed her all around the world three times. She's smart, because she realized the value of owning her own footage. So I ended up shooting everything. It was like this for 16 hours a day. She's backed off a bit. We still have a videographer, but the access isn't quite as crazy.

“I have learned a lot from her. I learn from her everyday. Mostly, it's how to take certain things that we bring to the table and make it her own. That's just amazing to me. She elevates everything. She elevates everyone around her. She's absolutely normal. I don't have a filter on what I say or do—especially creatively.

" all started from the Super Bowl, and that was the most intense thing that I had ever done. From then it's been nonstop. After that, it rolled into the documentary and this visual album was a nightmare because she was on tour and we were shooting all around the world.

“She came up with the idea , and it was very, very challenging. It was very interesting how that whole thing came about because I never really saw a total vision for the album. Usually there is some sort of bond that brings it all together. For this, there wasn't. But what's interesting is I think that she's such a diverse person and woman—she has so many facets—if you put all of those elements together, it really is what makes her, which is what's interesting.”

Kwasi Fordjour
Creative Coordinator, Parkwood Entertainment

“She’s kept true to the people who have kept true to her. I think that’s amazing—you rarely see artists who keep hold of their A-team throughout their career.”

Todd Tourso
Creative Director at Parkwood Entertainment

I think having a graphic design background prepares you for any type of visual career, for me anyway. The principles are really the same no matter what you do. Contrast, scale, minimalism. I never really looked at it like different things. To me, laying out a fashion story sort of takes the same principles as editing a music video. Directing a music video takes the same principles as directing a fashion shoot. Creating a garment takes the same principles as creating a poster. I never really saw boundaries between fields. I just see it as visual arts. I don't look at this like a concert. To me, it's performance art.

"The reason why Beyoncé and I are able to work well together is because she's completely fearless in trying new things. She's completely relentless in her pursuit of perfection. We both have those qualities. At the end of the day, it's not about sleep or money, it's about putting something in the world that you're proud of and that you think will affect generations after you. It sounds cheesy, but that's why I'm willing to work so hard for her. There's only been a few bosses in my life who've felt the same way. When you have this type of leadership and muse and mentor, I think the sky's the limit.

"Another reason why I love working with her is she's open to mistakes and open to change. So you start with and idea, that might be your idea, and somebody else might misunderstand it and take it somewhere else, and you have to have the humility that their misunderstanding led to a more beautiful idea. If that makes any sense. But basically, Leanne had this idea that—and I thought this was brilliant—the 'Partition' video should be wide-screen, as if you're looking through a crack in a partition. I loved that.

"From that, I felt we still needed something because you can't go that abstract in a Beyoncé video. So then we had this whole comedy moment where maybe it was a drive that's like funny, but in developing that idea I basically said—and the picture popped up in my mind—that it should be an antique Rolls Royce and it should be Paris and it would be sweet, if they were picking you up from Crazy Horse. Then she goes, "I love Crazy Horse, that's where I took Jay for his birthday. Actually, why don't we just rent Crazy Horse and shoot the whole thing there?" So the concept just went from here to there, and it became what it was meant to be. Similarly enough, with the 'Heaven' video, I got an email on a Thursday that was like, "I want you to fly out to Puerto Rico and direct this video. Here's the song, we just made it last week, what do you think?"

"We were flying out two days later, and I'm sitting there trying to pull together a whole concept and at like 5:30 a.m. I get an email with a full-on treatment: a story, reference images, shots. I was blown away. Her idea for that was a bucket list. 'Let's do these great touristy things with me and another girl and it'll be a happy video with sad music. Then you'll find out that the reason we're doing all this crazy stuff is because the girl is dead and we're living out her bucket list.' I was like, 'That's a brilliant concept.' So we went to Puerto Rico and shot it with Ashley, who's one of her dancers and a friend. We ended up with a super small crew, going around and shooting all the time, which is what she loves to do. In watching all the footage, it was actually all the real stuff we shot that felt powerful and the other stuff we shot that felt kind of corny. So she was able to say that maybe it's not the bucket list concept. It's the same concept, but it's not quite as literal and defined. Instead, we had happy vignettes of these two girls throughout their life and it'll just end with her walking through a cemetery. Kind of abstract and less literal in the end. I think it made it much more powerful. I think she's just a visual person.”

Melissa Vargas
Brand Manager at Parkwood Entertainment

"I grew up right outside of Chicago, in a small suburb called Joliet. My parents are from Mexico, so I’m first-generation Mexican. I grew up listening to Spanish music. I didn’t learn English until I started school. I grew up in a minority neighborhood. My dad has 10 brothers and sisters, so we grew up together. With all my family. So to me it wasn’t any different; we’re a very very close family. We grew up just playing and listening to music and the only English music I knew was Michael Jackson, because my older cousins would listen to it.

"We always had to be dressed up and looking nice. My mom instilled that in us. I always wore heels growing up; I love wearing heels. I’m just more comfortable in heels. When I started working with Beyoncé, I started wearing sneakers and boots because I had to keep up with her. She runs with heels and you gotta keep up!

"I went to school at Arizona State, and then I came to New York on an internship for the summer and I got the job, I worked in fashion. I worked for Jennifer Lopez, for her fashion company. After I ended up getting the job, I worked for her company for like five years. Then my friend who worked for Beyoncé’s father’s company at the time, Music World, recommended me for a position that was opening up. I was like, 'No I don’t think so. I’m OK.' And he said, 'No, you’ll be great.' I applied and I met with her dad, then the president. Then I met again with her dad and then her mother and then her. Then, finally, I got the job as her personal assistant.

"I had never worked with someone so focused and committed. She’s just very motivated and driven. She has this adrenaline that’s very contagious. You keep up with her somehow. And I think, being her personal assistant, you have to protect her to make sure that everything is very…she kept to her personal life, she’s a very private person. Being her brand manager now after working so closely with her—I know what levels she’s is willing to expose and what she’s not. And she’s a very very private person, so she usually will be able to say what she wants to share of her personal life and what she doesn’t but you learn that you don’t they’re just two separate things: her career and her personal life is that, just very personal.

Yvette Noel-Schure
Publicist at Parkwood Entertainment

“I grew up in the Caribbean and as an immigrant child, there’s nothing that’s taught to you with more passion than hard work. Do not feel bad if you’re the last one left there. Get it done. Finish it. Wake up early. Wake up with the sun. I grew up with my grandparents mostly, and the only music in the house was Catholic hymns. Once in a while I heard some calypso on the radio, and I heard reggae—a lot of Bob Marley, and a calypso singer called Mighty Sparrow.

"When I came to this country, I just had just one career path in mind. I wanted to be a writer. I took an internship at Gannett Westchester Newspapers—they were the same company as USA Today—and I realized that summer that I didn’t want to do hard news. Then I got offered to do work for a zine called Black Beat magazine, and I interviewed everybody you can think of. LL Cool J came to the interview with his mother and his grandmother, and I loved every minute of it because he was so, you know, ‘I’m a tough kid from Queens and I got my radio on my shoulder, but here comes grandma with me to the interview.’ At the time he was wearing his sneakers that didn’t have laces, and I literally bent down, and said, ‘You lost your shoelace!’ And he said, ‘No, no, no, that’s the style.’

"Later, I got offered to go to Sony as a very wet-behind-the-ears publicist, and that’s where I met Destiny’s Child. And I saw a very meticulous 14-year-old girl. To be so in-the-know at that age—I remember coming back to Sony and saying, 'This is my project. I’m gonna have the time of my life with these girls.'

"This is what I’m always gonna remember about Beyoncé: She takes you in. She looks you straight in your eyes when she’s talking to you. I said , That is the trait of an honest person—if you can look someone in the eye, a total stranger. In those days she was, ‘Yes, ma’am, yes, ma’am,’ to me, but she looked me right straight in the eye, does not blink, it seems. She really takes you in. And it takes another honest person to not flinch when someone’s looking your straight in the eye, because that person is reading you, but also revealing to you that, “I’m gonna be straight-up with you, whether you like it or not.” I saw the boldness of her. To this day, when you talk to her, it’s the same thing. And I always say, “Wow you still do that.”

She still does that and I believe it’s a good quality to have as a businesswoman. As much as she’s a creative force, she’s a businesswoman. When you’re doing business with people, you should really look them in the eye and I really think that people feel very empowered when someone completely takes you in. I’ve seen her walk into a room and say, “Hi I’m Beyoncé,” and I’m always thinking, “They know who you are,” in the back of my head. But the respect that she shows everyone—everyone—is important. That’s very, very vivid to me. Another thing that sticks out to me is how quiet she was, even though she looks you in the eye. She was the one that would take in everything and not say anything; and when she did say something, it was something that she had thought about.

Lee Anne Callahan-Longo
General Manager, Parkwood Entertainment

“I grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, with an Italian mother, and Irish father—raised very ethnically Italian. Food was everything. I wasn’t necessarily the musical kid, but there was always music in the house. I’m a big fan of singer-song writers like Carol King, James Taylor, Carly Simon. They were all gods and goddesses in Massachusetts. And then bands like Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin and the Beatles. Funny thing is, I loved Def Leppard, but I’ve always been the biggest fan of Barbara Streisand. Having older siblings gave me a broad musical taste. I was always fascinated by the radio. I remember being really young, and I had a transistor radio that you’d bring to the beach and when they did promotions and the DJs would talk, I always thought how somewhere there were people doing this. Afterwards, when I went to college, I started at internship at WBCN, a big rock station.

"There’s nothing traditional about this company. We certainly don’t work set hours. We don’t subscribe to a lot of planning. And I think sometimes that’s what makes it special. I make a joke around here that we’re not for everyone, just the sexy people. Because if you aren’t here for the passion and the ride, then you’d be miserable. I’ve known Beyoncé for 10-plus years. I met her when I worked at Columbia Records. I’d see her was when I was working on things like the VMAs. She’s such a visual artist. Always has been. Long before she decided this was the way she wanted to present her record. To know her for that long, and to watch her grow—I mean that in ever facet of the word, as a person and as an artist—has been amazing. She doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She is a glowing example of being proud of yourself, being confident, working hard, setting your sights on something and going for it. Sometimes it may not work out, but there is probably a reason that happened too. What do you do with that? Whatever corrects itself was meant to be, and is also probably more impactful in your life. She’s very aware that people look at her and make judgments, but she chose to stretch her artistic reach in this album.

"It’s breaking the barrier between expectation and expression, and just being free as an artist. She made a record and sincerely said, 'I can’t be concerned with how it will or won’t do. What I want to do is make my best art.' We’re in an industry where you’re supposed to experiment and supposed to have fun and not be afraid. I think that was the best part of this album. It was super brave. We all just believed. I think that’s what makes it as great as it had been.”