A self-proclaimed backstage mom, performing artist Allison Williams Foster actually began managing her family members in the business 37 years ago as she herself was simultaneously performing in New York. She was ending the national tour of “Dancin’” as a Bob Fosse dancer and managed her husband Taj’s modeling career and son Amir’s acting career. After she moved to New Jersey, she opened a consultation company called Image Style and You, LLC in 2005 to help artists get their start in the business. In 2013, as a music manager, Foster changed the name of Image Style and You, LLC to I Style Music Management.
Based out of Englewood, I Style Music Management’s purpose is to take on clients and help these artists find and create work situations and develop their brands.
For Foster, having experience in the industry gives her an advantage to assist her clients.
“The fact that I was a performer just has that extra edge on it,” said Foster. “The reason why I opened up the management company is because I was a performer and I could be a gatekeeper, so to speak. Also, you don’t find many female managers, not for musicians, so I am really excited about that.”
Foster currently represents violinist Priya DeBerry as well as three others. DeBerry’s inspiration began when she was in second grade through discovering the Noel Pointer Foundation, which offers a free violin program for students. She also began playing trumpet at P.S. 44 and then in middle school for Satellite Academy’s jazz band, but eventually realized that the violin was her sincere love because of its unique sound. She and her musical siblings, who all played string instruments, formed The DeBerry Quintet and together they performed throughout the tri-state area, including Lincoln Center and Madison Square Garden.
“Being able to play with my family and being surrounded by musicians that look like me and are from my background, it was really encouraging to have siblings and parents that support you,” said DeBerry.
Foster herself has quite the resume. She initially started out as a ballet dancer at the age of four and went on to attend the Professional Children’s School in New York. She eventually made make her Broadway debut as the Tornado Eye in the original run of “The Wiz,” starring Stephanie Mills. Though Foster has been featured on both stage and screen, she has found that she prefers stage productions because of the live audience feedback and occasional participation.
Several celebrities with whom Foster has worked and toured throughout her career include Stevie Wonder, Bobby Brown, Meli’sa Morgan, Christopher Williams, GQ, Randy Muller, Change, Kevin Ross, Chrisette Michele, Neyo and Ceelo Green.
She credits getting to know the King of Pop as a business figure one of her most memorable experiences as a dancer.
“My first time working with Michael Jackson was really exciting just to get to know him. He was such an incredible businessman and I learned a lot from him how to deal with people when they work for you because I watched how passionate he was about his business but how loving he was towards everybody that was a part of his work,” Foster said.
DeBerry mentions well-known names she holds in high regard in her field as well. Hiphop violinist Miri Ben-Ari and R&B violinist Damien Escobar are two of her idols who both happen to mix music genre styles into their performances. DeBerry finds herself following in their footsteps by also combining musical genres and finding her own sound. She does this by determining the keys and aligning the rhythm.
“I’m classically trained so I definitely have a classical background. However, as I got older, I began to play in church, so I had to learn how to improvise in addition to playing classical music and reading. The older I got I started getting invitations to play at weddings and different events, so I got more into R&B, hip hop, reggae, jazz and blues so as the years progressed I got very versatile and comfortable playing different genres of music,” she said.
As for the best advice Foster has ever given her, DeBerry answers, “to get myself out there and be more consistent.”
“I’m a very introverted person, and I like to stay in my comfort zone,” DeBerry said. “That is a habit that I have. So I have to be consistent. I have to cope. People need to know about me. They need to know your material. If there is something I have to do, go for it. She also encourages me to sit down and really think about what I want and definitely pushing me in the right direction.”
And that she did. Though a musician throughout her lifetime, DeBerry graduated with a degree in both biology and public health from Brandeis University last year and now works as a child care provider and a biology teacher at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn. During her school years and now in her professional life, she faces the challenge of balancing her interests in both the arts and sciences and determining her true passions.
Last June, DeBerry played the electric violin alongside two of Foster’s other clients, flautist “Notes” Overton and singer songwriter Daneik Ashley, at the Triad Theater in New York.
“If music was taken from me and I wouldn’t be able to perform music, that is something that would haunt me,” DeBerry said. “I would be okay with not being a doctor or pursuing a research career, but I wouldn’t be happy without music.”
By Stefanie Sears