PLUS: She Credits ‘Old Hollywood’ publicist Henry C. Rogers, legendary Patti Webster as role models and speaks on the amazing charitable nature of PRINCE
“I’m very complimented. I think it’s very nice,” publicist Karen Lee tells EURweb publisher/exec. producer, Lee Bailey in a telephone interview. Ms. Lee is being presented with the Media Executive Award by The Living Legends Foundation in an event that will take place on Friday, October 4, in Hollywood, CA.
It’s easy to see that Ms. Lee is humbled by the award and when LB asks her why she believes she is being awarded such an honor she admits, “That’s a hard question to answer. I hope that I represent the mentors I’ve had in the business world.” She bows down to the late Henry C. Rogers of the highly respected, world-renowned, Los Angeles-based agency Rogers and Cowan.
“He was a gift to me. When he knew I wanted to learn PR he took me under his wing and I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor,” she says. “He taught me about putting together the philanthropic communities in Los Angeles. He had done Hollywood for so long, now his interest was in wanting to connect the downtown (L.A.) and Pasadena people with the Hollywood people in a philanthropic manner. I learned so much from him.”
You can hear the passion in her voice when she speaks of Rogers, who passed away in 1995 at the age of 82. And you can understand why.
Shortly after Rogers’ passing on April 28, Variety wrote in a May 1, 1995 article that the legendary publicist was known to his colleagues and clients as an “elegant man who brought respectability and grace to the PR discipline,” and according to an April 29, 1995 article written by Myrna Oliver in the Los Angeles Times, Henry C. Rogers is “credited with setting many creative and ethical standards in public relations.” Rogers also penned the book: Walking the Tightrope, the private confessions of a public relations man.
When LB asks if she had any idea of the significance of being under Rogers’ tutelage at the time, Lee, whose media relations management and artist development career spans more than 20 years responds,
“When I first started I didn’t. But you only had to be there a little while to see the people that he spoke to.” It was then, Lee says, that she started doing her homework and finding out who the man she was now working for “really is.”
Rogers would without a doubt be proud to know that his mentee went on to enhance the careers of artists such as PRINCE (and his Paisley Park production facility), Curtis Mayfield, Tamia, Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan, Seal, Eric Benet, Jaheim, Bobby Brown, Lalah Hathaway, New Power Generation, Charlie Wilson, Kirk Whalum, and Tupac Shakur.
She has also played a major role in her work with the Estate of Barry White, Chris Brown’s Symphonic Love Foundation. She even served as Vice President of Media Relations and Artist Development with Warner Bros.
Before PR, Karen worked at Westinghouse Broadcasting. When a position as an executive assistant for Henry Rogers at Rogers and Cowan became available, a friend encouraged her to apply. She did and got the job. Rogers had made a name for himself already due to his independent PR firm representing Hollywood stars the caliber of Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth 15 years before partnering with Warren Cowan in 1950 and changing the agency’s name to Rogers and Cowan.
Eventually Karen Lee moved up to Vice President of the agency’s music division.
When LB asks Karen Lee what she believes the key to her success is she recalls an experience: Periodically she is a guest speaker in her colleagues’ PR classes. She said that once a student in one of these classes asked her what it was like to “hang out with celebrities.”
“I told her that’s your first wrong question. I don’t hang out with celebrities. You work for people for a long period of time and you do develop a personal relationship, but first and foremost you work for these people. You have to be understanding of that. You can’t ‘hang out’. When I have dinner with a client, I don’t have a drink because it’s a business dinner.”
Lee also reveals that you can’t take anything personal in these relationships.
“When you’re working with geniuses in the entertainment business, you have to take the good with the bad,” she says. “There is drama on both sides.”
LB asks Lee what the expectations of friends and family who know that she has worked with celebrities are.
“They expect me to tell them some secret — something about the celebrity that they don’t know, personal business or something. That’s what they expect me to do.”
LB does his signature chuckle.
“Which I never do,” she concludes.
“You know, when PRINCE died I could have retired on the book deals I was offered. But I wouldn’t do that. That’s not who I am,” Karen Lee states.
***Not to take anything away from Ms. Lee’s obvious sense of integrity, but it’s important to note that legalities written into the contract of any artist, especially one as significant as PRINCE, also have non-disclosures in effect during their life and following their death preventing anyone working directly with them from writing a book.
Now of course, being the journalist that he is, this didn’t stop LB from digging in an attempt to get any potential “secrets” out of Ms. Lee about the late artist:
“Is there anything at this point, that we don’t already know, that you would want to reveal about him that people didn’t know that would make people understand him better? Would that be a fair question?”
“I don’t think you could understand him better” Karen responds. “But let me share something with you.”
“There are about 15 of us that previously worked for him that have come together and created a foundation called the ‘PRN Alumni Foundation.'”
Karen Lee reveals how each of the practitioners involved in the Foundation have some kind of crazy story about their experience working with Prince, but she also says the public may not realize just how charitable The Purple One was. He has given money to numerous organizations.
“We came together to be able to support some of the charities he has given to, as well as to be able to help support some of the people who worked with him, musicians, who may be down on their luck.”
“If you could see the look on peoples’ faces when we tell them that one of his major charities was ‘Urban Farmers’. He would give Urban Farmers grants to buy what they needed to plant their crops, and he would buy the food back from them and give it to homeless shelters.”
“Prince put women in positions of power before it was fashionable,” Lee tells LB. She speaks about a panel that took place recently in Oakland at The Pandora, with female engineers who worked with Prince on some of his most popular records.
LB brings charitable a bit closer to home and speaks to Karen about her own causes; one being her work with children on the autism spectrum. This is a cause that is close to Karen’s heart and inspired by her 23-year-old grandson, Khary, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of two-and- a- half. Karen says when her grandson was diagnosed the ratio of children diagnosed with the disorder was 1 in 568.
Today, she reveals, it is a shocking 1 in 68!
Karen serves as an advisor to the REACHability Foundation. They believe every child deserves to have fun and that children with special needs are entitled to benefit from the same recreational opportunities as all children. The Foundation provides experiences and social opportunities to children with special needs, thereby creating a supportive community, helping to build friendships, and promoting physical and mental strength.
Lee is especially proud of Khary, an artist whose painting won the 2016 37th Congressional District Art Competition and as a result, hung in the National Gallery in Washington, D. C. for a year.
The 37th District is helmed by U. S. Representative Karen Bass.
“The thing that made it the sweetest was it’s not for special needs kids. It’s an art competition. They didn’t know he has autism,” Karen tells LB.
Karen expounds on the importance of working with families of children who have special needs.
“My son is a single parent so I’m a little more involved. I know how we felt when we got word [that Khary had autism]…I know the fear that comes when somebody tells you a child in your life has autism. You think they’re going to be sitting somewhere banging their head up against the wall. It’s been an amazing journey. We’ve met some amazing people.”
Although Karen is not the parent of a special needs child herself, as the grandparent of a special needs child/adult she uses her experience to educate extended family members on the importance of supporting the parents of a child with special needs.
“They need a break every now and then,” she says of the parents who work around the clock to serve the additional needs of their child. “They need to know they have a team around them,” she says.
Karen hopes that Khary will be her date at the Living Legends Foundation Dinner.
Lee Bailey’s signature question for anyone he interviews closes with: “Is there anything you would like to add that I didn’t ask you, that you want folks to know?”
“For any artists that are out there,” Karen states, “one of the things that is our responsibility as executives in the entertainment industry, is to help artists understand that your public is looking for more from you than what your talent is.”
She states that when these artists had the dream to top the charts, they now have a responsibility to “reach back into the community they’re from and help somebody else reach their dream. Regardless of what it is. Educating our young artists coming into the business is, I think, very import.”
Karen Lee now serves as Senior Vice President at W&W Public Relations, the public relations agency founded by the late Patti Webster, who passed away at the age of 49 on September 13, 2013 from brain cancer. Webster’s agency, which began in 1991, represented celebrities in every discipline. Usher, Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys and Halle Berry were amongst them.
Patti LaBelle was her first client and remains there to this day.
“She was my sister!” Lee says of Patti Webster [and] “Being a part of her legacy is one of the things that gets me up every morning…Her loss, for those of us who were close to her, was more personal than business. She knew for a long time that she was going to be going. She never missed a beat. She never wanted sympathy. She had a strong faith in God. She was a deacon in her church. I loved her, as did a number of us. When she passed away and left some people to continue her legacy that meant the world to us.”
The Legends Foundation, Inc. 2019 Awards Show and Dinner takes place on Friday, October 4, at the Taglyan Complex, 1201 N. Vine Street, in Hollywood. Get more info here: www.LivingLegendsFoundation.com.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
DeBorah B. Pryor is a senior editor with EURweb. She began her writing career as a teen in NYC interviewing celebrities at the world-famous Apollo Theater for The Black American newspaper. She has worked in public relations at The Metropolitan Opera; served as personal assistant to the legendary Sly Stone, created the course Public Speaking for the Private Person – which she taught at UCLA Extension. She works as a voiceover artist, and is the author of the book, AREN’T YOU SCARED? Lessons From A Lady Rideshare Driver. DeBorah is reachable on all social media platforms.