#AHHPowerfulWomen: Cynthia Horner: Urban Media's Mother Still Inspires

Cynthia Horner is the reason so-called urban media is here. Chuck Creekmur talks to one of his sheroes.

(AllHipHop Features) Once upon a time, in my early years of writing, I was an in-house scribe for Black Beat magazine. I promise this is not about me, but I must set this up properly. I was a new New Yorker by way of Delaware and was unable to get the ear of The Source and XXL. I was tremendously excited to work at Black Beat for two reasons. The first was the publication gave me my first real writing job in New York City and the second was working in the house that Cynthia Horner built.

Cynthia M. Horner-Harris, pka Cynthia Marie Horner is a pillar of the publishing and entertainment industry. I knew this coming up, because she was the editor-in-chief of our favorite magazines as rap and R&B began to mature rapidly in the 80's. She pumped out 600 issues of magazines that young Black and Brown kids consumed. This included the original Right On! and Word Up! WE all know the line recited by The Notorious B.I.G.:

“It was all a dream / I used to readWord Up! Magazine / Salt-n-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine.”

-Notorious BIG on 1994's “Juicy"

A graduate of the Seaver College of Pepperdine University, Mrs. Horner-Harris continues on even though she could rest on her accolades. Seriously, how many journos can say they interviewed the late great King of Pop Michael Jackson, his queen sister Janet Jackson and their siblings The Jacksons? Prince? New Edition? She did that before social media, wide acceptance and shameless self promotion. And she continues to do it. Recently, she has appeared on the Reelz Channel, VH1’s The Black Ink Crew, TV One’s Unsung, and other national programs. She also continues to give back philanthropically, educationally and professionally.

Without further delay, an #AHHPowerfulWoman Cynthia Horner:

AllHipHop: You have an extensive history in music and publishing. What are your views on how both "games" have evolved?

Cynthia Horner: The game has continued to change as entertainment journalism has had some good times and not so good times. At a recent event where I accepted an award at Café Mocha’s Salute Her in NYC, I opened my remarks with a key statement, which I continue to repeat: “Media matters. Black media matters. And with every breath I take, I will continue to fight for our cause and for the foot soldiers who have been on the front lines, making it easier for those who have followed us. Members of the media are diverse and we have our own opinions which are based on our personal experiences. Too often, these opinions are not being respected by the larger community, partially due to lack of understanding and in some cases just the unwillingness to respect opinions that are diametrically opposed to someone else’s.

But I am an optimist and continue to be inspired by those who say that I inspire them. As a result, I embrace the various forums that we have for self expression i.e. the blogs, websites and niche publications that have emerged in the past decade or so. I remember when there was a time when we had a small handful of major newsstand publications that targeted our culture: Ebony, Essence, Jet, Black Enterprise and Right On!. We were the leaders in various genres. Of course, with the changing landscape, we have others, but we still do not have the support of the community to keep many other publications afloat. But we matter, and I intend to make sure that we continue to matter. Solidary is so important. There are many, many journalists and publicists who embrace me, and I feel that it is important that we take care of each other. Too often we are tunnel-versioned and are not cognizant of the world around us and it takes hearing of a death of someone we respected to remind us of our vulnerability. Nothing is promised, therefore we must make our mark every single day.

AllHipHop: What do you think your legacy is thus far and when are we going to get that memoir?

Cynthia Horner: My legacy reminds me of a globe that continues to turn. Every time I sit down to write another chapter, we either lose another important figure to whom I had a personal attachment or I am blessed with additional opportunities to share my knowledge with the world in other mediums. But that memoir is coming. It’s being prepped. I just haven’t decided how and where it will end. It’s an important story, however. I’m constantly reminded by people about my contributions and my place in the industry. It’s important for anyone who has dreams, regardless of their age or ethnicity. I was taught by my parents to dream big, and throughout my career I have helped entertainers make their dreams come true.

AllHipHop: You have interviewed everybody from Michael Jackson, Prince, Janet Jackson and so many more. Can you talk about some of those experiences and what, if you can, was the highlight interview of your career?

Cynthia Horner: Wow, I have had so many highlights that it is even difficult to say what experience ranks number one. I remember once reading that Beyoncé said that she had had many big days. I’ve had them, too, as a journalist. Since Michael Jackson and Prince are deceased, I would suppose that getting to know them on an extremely personal level would rank at the top. I don’t believe that there will ever be another Michael Jackson or Prince, so my time with them was very special. I’m proud that I can say that I had a hand in their success and that they appreciated what was done for them. I was able to have so much direct contact with them and interacted with these entertainers socially.

I was simply devastated over the death of Heavy D, an artist that I just adored as a friend. I’ll never forget the time when we ate at a restaurant and when the other diners recognized him, he graciously took care of all of their checks! - Cynthia Horner

Just imagine me jet setting around with these people who are two of the biggest names that ever lived. That was pretty much unheard of and could never happen today. I never abused their friendships. I am so grateful that I experienced having such an impact on their careers and I miss them. As you know, I have a very unusual speaking voice, but those entertainers always told me that my voice was my calling card. I still can’t believe that they are gone.

Since this interview is for AllHipHop, which has remained at the top of my list of these types of sites, I must confess that there are several hip hop artists that I miss. I was simply devastated over the death of Heavy D, an artist that I just adored as a friend. I’ll never forget the time when we ate at a restaurant and when the other diners recognized him, he graciously took care of all of their checks! And Biggie and Tupac, my God, what tragedies.

AllHipHop: Word on the street is you or your husband has purchased Right On! or Word Up a magazine, which was infamously mentioned by Biggie Smalls.

These magazines are part of my legacy and I will always cherish them. It was always a dream that I would own these magazines. I have a lot of exciting news which will I’ll share at a later date.

Cynthia Horner: I’m good at keeping secrets but I’m ready to burst at the seams (LOL).

AllHipHop: Explain what your present role entails work and business-wise? What are you up to these days?

Cynthia Horner: I have my fingers in many pies. In addition to editing several magazines, I publish my own and I still have a public relations firm called Cinnamon CHIPS Media. My husband and I specialize in working with young artists like Jahee (an R&B singer who is featured on the song “Uncongenial Lover”) and several other artists.

AllHipHop: You were running Right On! magazine at the age of 21. How was that for you?

Cynthia Horner: I had to be one of the world’s most responsible employees. The job fell into my lap but I had to put in the work. I entrusted with a huge amount of responsibility and had to walk a fine line, especially when I had to work so closely with the biggest names in the entertainment world---The Jacksons, Soul Train dancers, Janet Jackson, New Edition, and then spearheading the hip hop journalism movement. Although I never thought I would get involved with entertainment journalism, my first job blossomed into becoming my life.

AllHipHop: What is the hardest part of being successful these days?

Cynthia Horner: I need to find more time to do things for myself. The only occasion where I have downtime is when I am not feeling well. The rest of the time I’m awake 24/7

AllHipHop: Can you describe a moment of adversity personal and in your career?

Cynthia Horner: I like to keep things positive, especially since I’m the keeper of the legacy of Right On!, which is an expression of positivity. But it’s disconcerting that some people who are in the entertainment field do not understand the value of people of color who work in the media field. But nothing will ever stop me. If our ancestors could survive in the face of adversity, then who am I to complain about the small stuff? I’m still out here doing what I love and enjoying reinventing myself all the time.

AllHipHop: What keeps you pushing forward?

Cynthia Horner: Knowing that there is a need for my skills. Also, while I am want to make sure that I correct a lot of misinformation about entertainment journalism.

AllHipHop: Who inspired you to become a leader or boss?

Cynthia Horner: Initially I inspired myself. I always wanted to be a role model. That was my thing. As an adult, however, I was inspired by Suzanne DePasse at Motown Records. She is a person who has since made her mark in the areas of film and television but a very long time ago, she spearheaded artist development at Motown. The artists were trained to be their best and that was so important. I incorporated a lot artist development techniques with our magazines in terms of styling photo sessions, media training, etc., so that the celebrities would shine. Alex Haley, author of “Roots,” was another hero. And, of course, the late broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite. I have a lot of heroes and sheroes.

It’s disconcerting that some people who are in the entertainment field do not understand the value of people of color who work in the media field. But nothing will ever stop me. - Cynthia Horner

AllHipHop: How do you balance work, and personal life?

Cynthia Horner: I try to make sure that I do some normal things that are not entertainment-related as I have been accused of being a workaholic. I am married to a wonderful man, Ken Harris, aka KENTHEPHOTOGRAPHER, and that helps. He and I have been married for nearly 9 years, and he keeps me grounded. My wedding day was the biggest day of my life; I felt like the true Princess Bride.

AllHipHop:What is something most people don't know about Cynthia Horner?

Cynthia Horner: I am a shopper who won’t spend a cent unless it’s a bargain. Every single “big day” outfit was purchased for so little money that it is unbelievable. That is total fun to me. I also loved reading romance novels written by Rochelle Alers who was a special surprise guest at my wedding. And I have a collection of well-loved stuffed animals and I am a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.

AllHipHop: Final words?

Cynthia Horner: I can honestly say that I have done my job well, but the job isn’t done. Look out for the stories that I am telling on digital platforms, magazines and other places…