SUMMER SPOTLIGHT….An Interview With Mr. Mathew Knowles

Image Magazine Online Interview

Mathew Knowles is about the business of making things happen on a grand scale. As Founder, President, and CEO of Music World Entertainment, he has celebrated more than 25 years in the music industry, and he’s still making an impact by sharing knowledge as an educator and traveling the globe as a keynote speaker. In his office in Houston, Texas, with awards and framed photos of daughters Beyoncé and Solange as wall decor, we discussed his books, his personal experiences with racism, success in corporate America and the music business, his career as a college professor, and what projects we can expect
from the business mogul in the near future.

By Diane Hannah | Photography by Tanya Rawlins

HANNAH: What were you passionate about as a child? Did you always have a desire to work in the music industry?

KNOWLES: I always wanted to be a businessman when I was young. I had my first business when I was eight.

HANNAH: What type of business was it?

KNOWLES: Sales. I would buy candy and sell it at school.

HANNAH: Did you make a profit?

KNOWLES: I sure did. I convinced the owner of the store to give me a discount on the candy. The first and second time I bought the candy at regular price. Then by the third time, I told him I was going to buy ten dollars’ worth, so I needed a discount. That lasted about two months and then the nuns found out and made me stop. My second job was a mowing service, and I had two other guys that worked for me.

HANNAH: You became an entrepreneur early in life. What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

KNOWLES: I teach Media Entrepreneurship in grad school. Young people are trying to do too much at one time. They want to have a clothing line, be a singer, and a producer. They don’t focus on one thing to become really good and knowledgeable about it. The number one thing is the lack of focus because they are doing too much. The number two thing is not having identified their passion. I firmly believe that when you live your passion, you never work a day in your life. That’s why I’m here talking to you; this is fun. That’s what I see–lack of focus and lack of passion. The third is wanting microwave success, and success doesn’t come microwaved. I’m a firm believer in internships, and one reason many young people fail is because they lack experience. You can’t just jump into being an entrepreneur. You have to have the capital that’s needed, and often, we don’t have the amount of capital that’s needed when we start a new business.

HANNAH: How does teaching coincide with your busy schedule?

KNOWLES: I make it work. I try to make sure that my schedule permits me to do things on Friday’s if I have to go out of town. I do a lot of public speaking and that’s mainly on Saturday’s, so I arrange my schedule around the classes; I’m used to doing it now.

HANNAH: What do you enjoy most about teaching, specifically, at a Black university?

KNOWLES: I graduated from a historically Black university–Fisk University, in 1974. That was the first Black school I ever went to. What I like most about teaching is seeing the light bulb come on in my students’ minds and seeing them engaged because our kids are smart. I always say the number one thing I teach is critical thinking–the ability to think through a problem and solve it. I never teach out of a book; fortunately, I am the book when it comes to the music business. I’ve experienced it all.

HANNAH: How did you end up teaching at Texas Southern, and how long were you a professor there?

KNOWLES: I was asked to teach at Texas Southern. Last year was my seventh year.

HANNAH: What are a few of the courses you taught while there?

KNOWLES: The previous president of Texas Southern started a program called ERM–Entertainment Recording Management. It’s actually Entertainment Recording Industry Management, but we call it ERM. I taught several courses in that program which included artist management, the recording industry, and entrepreneurship.

HANNAH: How important is it to surround yourself with the right people?

KNOWLES: Going back to the DNA of Achievers, the last chapter is Thinking Outside of the Box. I do a lot of public speaking, and sometimes I’ll ask someone to get into a box, and I’ll have that person pick somebody to get into the box with them. I teach that there are going to be people like you inside of your box because most people are boxed in thinkers; we’ve been conditioned to fail–especially Black people. Racism conditions you to fail. We like to have people in our box like us. If you’re a hater, you’re going to have haters in your box. If you’re smart, you’re going to have smart people in your box. I don’t have a lot of friends, but the ones that I do have are uber intelligent and successful. It’s critical to surround yourself with the right people, and I don’t think young people get the picture. The other thing is that there are still first-generation entrepreneurs. For a typical White kid, the great granddad started the company and then granddad ran it and then dad, so he’s going to run it one day. In the process, he’s seen dad run a company; he’s gone to the office and seen what dad goes through on a daily basis so he can understand the company. Unfortunately, a lot of young Black people don’t have that opportunity.

DIANE HANNAH: Let’s talk about your second book. Why did you decide to write Racism From the Eyes of a Child?

MATHEW KNOWLES: I wrote it for awareness. A lot of young folks don’t know what we went through; they don’t understand this whole racism thing. Unfortunately, some young people actually believe racism doesn’t exist.

HANNAH: How much research did you do before writing the book?

KNOWLES: My team and I did an extensive amount of research. I dug into my family history and went as far back as my great grandfather and great grandmother on both the Knowles side and the Hogue side–that’s my mother’s maiden name which is Cherokee Indian. I learned a lot from the research for the book. I didn’t know that my maternal grandmother had a set of brothers that were twins which explains Beyoncé having twins.

HANNAH: What impact did racism have on you during your childhood?

KNOWLES: I had many encounters with racism growing up, so writing the book was a mental exercise for me. For example, I talk about my fear of going to the dentist. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I went to the dentist for the first time, and we had to wait in the colored waiting room. After they finished seeing the people in the White waiting room, they would treat the people in the colored waiting room. When the nurse came to us, she told my mother very rudely that she couldn’t go in the room with me. My mother said, “Yes, I am. This is his first time, and I am going to be with him.” The nurse basically told my mother she had two choices–she could sit down, or we could leave. So, I went into the room by myself. I had never seen a dentist chair before and this was in 1964, so you can image the technology; everything was huge. While I was sitting in the room alone waiting for the dentist, the nurse came in with all sorts of tools. As the dentist was treating me, hearing the noise coming from the instruments he was using scared me to death; it was traumatic. That’s just one example of racism that I experienced. Back then we had colored restrooms and colored water fountains. Many people today can’t even relate to that. I also discuss racial psychological trauma and eroticized rage.

HANNAH: Eroticized rage–that’s not a topic discussed much.

KNOWLES: No, but it’s something that mainly Black men deal with. Sometimes when they are dating White women there’s a subconscious rage that exists if they grew up during segregation.
I don’t want to give the book away, but I really go into detail about a lot of things.

HANNAH: Do you have a favorite chapter in the book?

KNOWLES: I like the opening because I share a true story; I’ll tell you part of it. My mother grew up in Marion, Alabama, and we would go there during the summer to stay with my grandparents for a couple of weeks. My mother and my grandmother were like oil and water; they just didn’t get along at all and would always argue. One night my mother had had enough, so she decided to go to her cousin’s house which was almost a mile away. I was about 6 years old, and my brother was about 15. It was very late at night, and we were walking on the side of the highway when suddenly I noticed a difference in my mother. We saw lights and heard horns in the distance. As the lights got closer, the horns got louder. My mother grabbed me and my brother by the hand, and we hid in the bushes. She started praying and told my brother, Jesse, that if anything happened, to take me under the barbed wire fence and for us to run as fast as we could. I remember seeing Confederate flags as the cars passed. It was a KKK caravan.

HANNAH: What personal experiences have you had with racism in recent years?

KNOWLES: I talk about that in the book, and Solange talks about it in her record. There are times when I am on an airplane dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans and it’s like, “Sir, this is reserved for the first-class passengers.” There’s an assumption that I’m not supposed to be flying in first-class because everybody else has suits on–especially on the morning flights. I talk about other experiences, as well. For example, I had a very nice convertible Rolls Royce that I didn’t drive much. One afternoon, I was on West Gray–right here in Houston–and a young White police officer pulled me over. He got out of his car and came up to my car and asked, “Do you own this car?” I said, “Yes, I own this car, but aren’t you supposed to ask me for my registration and license?” He assumed that I didn’t own the car. There’s no way this Black man can own this half a million dollar car. It was daytime, and he took forever to write my ticket; I guess he wanted to embarrass me. He finally gave me a ticket for changing lanes in an intersection, which I did not do. That’s just another example of racism that I share in the book. Racism still exists.

HANNAH: Yes, and sometimes it’s very subtle.

KNOWLES: Right, and because I went through it, I’m very keen and intuitive even when it is subtle. I filed a complaint against the officer which a lot of us don’t do. In the book, I talk about making your voice heard, and sometimes, there’s a price for making your voice heard. But we can’t just talk about what’s wrong; it irritates and upsets me when we just talk about stuff. In my first book, The DNA of Achievers, I coin the phrase “talk-to-do ratio.” Sometimes, as a race, we have a very low talk-to-do ratio. You can talk all day long, but are you really going to put that into action? I also call that social courage. Meaning, we speak out, speak up, and speak against racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia.

HANNAH: You’ve already completed your next book which will be published soon.

KNOWLES: Yes, I have. The Emancipation of Slaves Through Music is a collaboration with my students at Texas Southern.

HANNAH: What inspired you to write this book?

KNOWLES: I got a call the day before classes were to begin at Texas Southern to teach a third class one semester. The class was a special topics course. I came up with the title of the course, The Emancipation of Slaves Through Music, during the drive to Texas Southern that day, and I decided to challenge my students to help write the book with me and do some of the research. I found out that only one of my ten students had ever done research, so it was a great opportunity to exercise researching.

HANNAH: What specifically does the book talk about as it relates to slaves and music?

KNOWLES: The book talks about slaves and their long journey from Africa to America, how different tribes communicated once they got to America and had hard long days of picking cotton and being beat, and it talks about spirituality and gospel music in the church and how slaves used music to communicate when they would escape to freedom. It also talks about how we use music to communicate today. What you will find in the book is that a lot of how we approach music and how we put it together–even the instruments we use–came from Africa. It’s a very interesting read.

HANNAH: I’m looking forward to reading it. You’re already working on your third book, Destiny’s Child: The Untold Story. Why that title?

KNOWLES: Because people don’t really know what happened.

HANNAH: Regarding the break-up of the group?

KNOWLES: It’s going to cover every aspect; it’s broken down by the group’s configurations. First, it was Girls Tyme. The members were in and out because they were kids; they were young. We had dancers who were trying to get a record deal–believe it or not–which as a vocalist is unheard of. You don’t sign dancers. I understand now why everybody was saying no to the record deals. I talk about how I got involved when they lost on Star Search. The girls were crying their hearts out, so I went to Ed McMahon and asked him what I should do. He said that the people who continuously win on Star Search are never heard of professionally, but the people that lose are the ones you hear about, and they go on to be successful. He started rattling off names like Sinbad, Boys to Men, and Justin Timberlake. I just kept hearing his words.

HANNAH: And you believed you could help make the group successful?

KNOWLES: Yes, I did. Initially, my role was just being dad. I would drop Beyoncé off and go play basketball while they practiced. That was about it, and I would take her and Solange to dance class. At the time, there were two ladies involved, and I told one of them that I understood the marketing aspect of the business, and it was probably time for me to get on board. I have undergraduate degrees in economics and business administration, and I was doing marketing at the time. I got involved, and I went back to school to study music at Houston Community College. I love music, and I love to sing.

HANNAH: How important is it to learn about your industry?

KNOWLES: Extremely important. I believe in education. I don’t believe in talking about something that you don’t really understand. I went to every seminar that I could go to, and I asked every question that I could ask. Eventually, I went back to school and got my MBA and my Ph.D. in Business Administration. And I have an honorary doctorate from Fisk. I also understood the importance of building relationships.

HANNAH: Your diligence paid off.

KNOWLES: It definitely did. I’m passionate about the music industry, and I’ve always had a strong work ethic which is what has resulted in so many successful ventures. As a family, Beyoncé, Tina, and I started House of Deréon clothing line. From a worldwide perspective, we were a small brand, but we ended up selling that clothing line for 68 million dollars. Destiny’s Child is the number one Pop and R&B trio of all time. Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé are ranked by Billboard in the Top Ten Artists of the Decade. You know what that means? That two out of the ten, I managed. I managed 20% of the whole industry in terms of success. And folks don’t know that when I managed Beyoncé she won twenty-one Grammys. She has more now, but for twenty-one of those, I was around. For her first three albums, I was the manager.

HANNAH: You mentioned the importance of building relationships earlier. What relationships do you talk about in the book?

KNOWLES: I talk about Andretta Tillman, my former business partner, who died of Lupus. I also talk about Darrell Simmons who is still a writing partner of Babyface and L. A. Reid. He was in Atlanta, and the girls were there for two or three months. We did a production deal, but eventually, they got dropped by Elektra Records. It was interesting because back then there were kid acts like Another Bad Creation (ABC), Criss Cross, Kid-n-Play, Usher, and TLC. That was the trend. When they came back to Houston from Atlanta, I named them Cliché. Cliché became Something Fresh, Something Fresh became The Dolls, and The Dolls became Destiny. Originally, it wasn’t Destiny’s Child; it was Destiny, but there was a gospel group in Mississippi called Destiny and that would have been trademark infringement, so I named the group Destiny’s Child.

HANNAH: You had a tremendous amount of success with Destiny’s Child, but you’ve also had success with other artists on your record label.

KNOWLES: Oh, yes. As you can see on the wall, we’ve done way more than just Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, and Solange. The O’Jay’s last album, Imagination, was made here and so was Earth, Wind, and Fire’s last album. Also, we’ve worked with De La Soul and my friend, Quincy Jones. We did five albums with Trinitee 5:7, and we had the number one gospel label at that time. Trinitee 5:7 is one of the top gospel trios of all time. We also had a partnership with BET and Sunday Best where we signed all the winning contestants to the label. We typically only worked with the winner and the first runner up. Le’Andria Johnson was the best of all the Sunday Best contestants; she out performed all of them. She won a Grammy, and she was Billboard Magazine’s #1 Female Gospel Albums Artist of 2012. As I mentioned before, I’ve worked with Earth, Wind, & Fire, the O’Jay’s, and I’ve had success with country music. I don’t go around bragging and boasting about it so that’s part of the reason people don’t know. I always prefer my artists to be out front, and I’m behind the scenes with what I do from a business perspective. Most people don’t know that in 2002 I sold Music World to Sanctuary, the largest independent record label and management company in the UK. I sold it for 10 million dollars and 10 million dollars of stock, and I became the president of Music World Sanctuary. I had about 100 employees worldwide with offices in Los Angeles, London, New York, and Houston. We purchased several Black management companies; we bought the management company for Eve, Nelly, and D12 which had Eminem. We also bought the management company that had Floetry and Mary Mary. From 2002 to 2007, I was the president and then I bought Music World back in 2007. We signed Chaka Khan–ClassiKhan. We did an album with Kool and the Gang, De La Soul, and we did two records with Dionne Farris of Arrested Development. We’ve done many things at Music World that folks aren’t aware of. That’s a pretty huge line-up when you include Destiny’s Child–Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle. Michelle has had three number one gospel albums, and Kelly sold over four million albums as a solo artist, so people don’t have the facts when they throw out stuff and say that Kelly and Michelle are not successful on their own. Do they have the level of success as Beyoncé? Less than 1% reach that level of success, so you wouldn’t expect that. Who has that kind of success as a female artist today? Nobody.

HANNAH: Did you manage most of those artists?

KNOWLES: Yes, most of them. Everybody sees me as a manager, but I’ve done equally as much as a record label executive. All of that was on my Music World label. We have over 3,000 titles at Music World including Music World Gospel, and I own a country label called Compadre with Billy Joe Shaver and Trent Willmon. It’s great because since we’ve been talking, someone has bought one of those 3,000 songs, so it’s how we keep the lights on.

HANNAH: Contrary to what some people think, your career success began long before you started in the music industry.

KNOWLES: Well, let’s talk about it; I want to talk to you about it because I seldom talk about it. I ended my corporate career as a neurosurgical specialist with a division of Johnson & Johnson called Codman. I was in surgery telling neurosurgeons how to use an instrument on someone’s brain. Prior to that, I worked for Xerox for ten years, and I was the number one sales representative worldwide in the medical division selling Xeroradiography for breast cancer detection. I left Xerox because the president of Xerox Medical Systems ended up being the president of Phillips Medical Systems, and he took me, his number one sales rep, with him. I was one of the first Blacks, if not the first Black, in 1988 to sell MRI/CT scanners. I did that for five years, and I was highly successful at it. At the same time, my former wife, Tina, and I owned Headliners, the number one hair salon in Houston back then, and we had over twenty-five hair stylists at one point. We made our first million dollars in 1985 from Headliners. I brought our approach in marketing and branding from my experience in the corporate world. Nobody seems to know about us making a million dollars consistently. We had the hair salon for seventeen years. That was significant.

HANNAH: In what ways did Beyoncé and Solange’s upbringing contribute to their success?

KNOWLES: My grandfather owned 200 acres of land. He would partial off a section of the land and lease it to a papermill. They would cut down all the trees and clean it up. Then my grandfather would go behind them and farm. Genius. You clean up my land for me and pay me. He was smart. We come from a lineage of successful people; it’s in our DNA. Beyoncé and Solange saw success; they saw what is required for success. You don’t just become successful; you have to work hard, you have to be knowledgeable, and you have to have a passion for what you are doing. They co-exist–work ethic and passion; you can’t have one without the other. Our children saw that, and we inspired them. We asked them what they were passionate about. I didn’t care if Beyoncé and Solange wanted to be doctors or lawyers. I wanted to know what their passion was so as a parent, I could surround them with the tools to be successful. They wanted to be singers, so we got a vocal coach, and we put them in dance classes–key things they had to have. That’s parenting.

HANNAH: How would you describe your relationship with Beyoncé and Solange?

KNOWLES: I have a good relationship with both of my daughters and with my grandchildren. I enjoy spending time with Beyoncé’s children. The twins are still young, but Blue likes me to take her to get ice cream. I have a lot of fun playing basketball with Solange’s son, Julez, since he plays basketball now. Where is my phone? {Shows texts from Beyoncé with photos of his twin grandsons, Sir and Rumi} She sent these today. I talk to my kids a lot. I attended Solange’s concert here in Houston. I told her I wasn’t going to be there, and I surprised her.

HANNAH: And she surprised you and her mother when she arranged to interview you both for her album, and didn’t tell either of you that the other would be present.

KNOWLES: That’s correct. She didn’t tell us, but it was a great interview; I enjoyed it. Tina is my friend and the mother of our two wonderful daughters. We hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. It was a very special moment; one I will never forget.

HANNAH: In what ways do you give back to the community?

KNOWLES: That’s something I don’t talk about either. I’ve given a lot-from the Knowles-Temenos Place Apartments in Houston to Habitat for Humanity. One of my most memorable moments was during my second or third year teaching. I’m a real stickler about being on time for class, and I had a student that consistently arrived about forty-five minutes late. After the fourth time, I called him out in class and told him that I was not going to tolerate it. Then he said, “Professor Knowles, you don’t remember me, do you?” I asked, “Where would I remember you from?” He responded, “Remember those two houses you bought? One of them you bought for my family. My dad left my mother, and my mother is now a crackhead, and I have a thirteen-year-old sister that I have to pick up from school. I have to get her fed and situated and then come to class.” That was very touching. I’m also on the board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation; I’m very pleased to be on that board–especially as the only African American. Whenever you think you’re having a tough day, just go to any children’s hospital and see the children with this ray of hope. Some of them are not going to live to see Christmas. I love the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It costs approximately $9,000 every time we grant a wish.

HANNAH: How can someone donate?

KNOWLES: They can go to to donate. It’s a very costly endeavor to grant as many wishes as they do–millions of dollars.

HANNAH: What is something people don’t know about you?

KNOWLES: Most people don’t know that I have been remarried for 5 years. My wife was an assistant for Vanessa Williams for many years. She prefers to be behind the scenes; it’s just her personality. She pushes me out front.

HANNAH: What projects do you have in the works?

KNOWLES: Documentaries, musicals, and movies where I will share what 25 years in the music industry has been like. Currently, we have 30 years of audio and video, and my team is reviewing never-seen-before footage and never-heard-before audio.

HANNAH: You’ve had a tremendous amount of success in the music industry.

KNOWLES: Yes, I have. I’m very fortunate and happy that Beyoncé, Solange, Destiny’s Child, and Music World made history. Success is one layer, but when you make history with multiple layers, that’s a big deal. And that’s what we’ve been able to do.
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