It’s easy to dismiss Tracey Edmonds as the ex-trophy wife of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds who parlayed her husband’s name into entrance to the C-Suite as CEO of Edmonds Entertainment Group and COO of Our Stories Films. Easier still to ignore her accomplishments—she produced the hit films Soul Food, Good Luck Chuck, and Jumping the Broom—in favor of guilty pleasure gossip about why she went on to marry Eddie Murphy on New Year’s Day 2008, only to split from him weeks later (both parties opting not to legalize their private destination Bora Bora ceremony in the States).
But of course, Edmonds’ story is far more complicated, far less sensational—and probably wouldn’t be so easy to dismiss if she weren’t a beautiful woman.
With 15 years under her belt producing films and reality shows—and a degree in Psychobiology from Stanford University—Edmonds understands the desire to succumb to sensationalist chatter, admitting she too keeps up with gossip sites religiously. “I first read the news, but then I move right over into TMZ, Bossip, Media Takeout, and all of it,” she laughs during her exclusive talk with theGrio, although she has a better excuse than most of us.
“Being in the entertainment industry, it’s important to know who’s hot and who’s not,” Tracy explains. “Of course you got to read with a little bit of caution, and take things with a grain of salt because there are a lot of false stories.”
It turns out—even with her rumored $30 million net worth, power to green light films, a closetful of Herve Leger and Roberto Cavalli, and her A-list exes—Edmonds has more in common with the women who watch her movies than one would think. She is just as concerned, for instance, with maintaining her appearance and works as hard on that as the next woman.
“I’m on an anti-aging program,” the 45-year-old mother says, gushing about the virtues of Neutrogena Anti-Acne cleanser, microdermabrasion, and the retinol cream she uses every night. She calls the latter “just the best cream that you can possibly use to really, really help keep your skin moist and fight the wrinkles.”
Itemizing her beauty and exercise regimen, she continues, “I take a lot of vitamins. I’m on the elliptical five days a week. I do some Pilates three times a week. My boyfriend’s recently been pushing me to start doing some squats and sit-ups, which I hate.” Edmonds is certainly continuing to work on herself, but loves to relax with a great movie as well, just like the audiences she works hard to please.
Tracey loves to kick back with a good comedy or love story, which is reflected in the tenor of her projects. “Claudine and Mahogany,” she says of the classic ‘70s flicks, “are probably the best African-American love stories we’ve had.” And When Harry Met Sally? “I’ve probably seen like 20 times,” she confesses. “Anytime it’s on TV, I’ll sit on the bed and at least watch it for a little while”—a real indulgence considering her time-strapped schedule.
Between reading scripts, taking meetings, and sending out emails non-stop on her Blackberry, Edmonds listens to Deepak Chopra audio books as she gets dressed for work for some spiritual centering. Stealing the time to do this interview at the end of an endless day by pulling over to the side of the road, the busy exec admits that prioritizing her responsibilities to the two boys she shares with Babyface, and handling her demanding career with aplomb, has taken its toll her romantic life. But that was the past.
Now, she says, “I’ve got a great man in my life,” referring to ex-NFL player Deion Sanders, who’s currently in the middle of a messy public split from his second wife Pilar.
When Sanders confirmed that he and Edmonds were an item at T.D. Jakes’ 35th Anniversary Gala in Dallas, gossip blogs jumped on the story as readers posted comments both defending and trashing the union. Not one to shy away from using elements of her personal life as inspiration for her business ventures, she is now producing a reality series starring Sanders.
Edmonds understands the risks and rewards of marrying her business and her personal life. “When I was deciding on a name [for my production company], I had to make a decision as to whether to use my own name [or] ‘Edmonds.’” At the time she was nine years deep into her marriage with Babyface. “A lot of people told me not to[.] I’d be on front street in case anything failed, but I just decided to just kind of go for it.”
Branding her company with her powerful last name helped, Edmonds knows, but her name didn’t do the hard work of building relationships, or covering the learning curve from Psychobiology to film. “If I had it to do all over again,” the producer and executive says, “I wish I’d have been a film major.”
Plus, the Edmonds name was not magically responsible for delivering the success of her first major project, Soul Food. Calling Soul Food the blessing that jump-started her career in film, Tracey credits her mentor and Our Stories Films partner Bob Johnson as being critical to her success.
In addition, her sister circle of entertainment power players were invaluable, including Johnson Publishing chairman Linda Johnson Rice, Ebony magazine editor-in-chief Amy Barnett, BET Senior Vice-President Connie Orlando, Access Hollywood host Shaun Robinson, and veteran producer Suzanne de Passe. These powerful black women helped her grow in the business. “African-American sisterhood and brotherhood is really, really key and paramount,” Edmonds understands. “When a door opens for any of us, it’s really important to keep the door open for someone else as well.”
Edmonds points to the dearth of black films and black decision-makers in the Hollywood studio system as a case in point. “If you were to look at any given year on all the studios’ release schedules, there are probably four African-American films that get released in a one-year period versus hundreds of mainstream films. And there are only a couple of studios that will even finance and distribute black films,” she explains. “The bar is set extra high for people of color because there are so few opportunities. We’ve got to deliver the highest of quality on whatever side of the business we’re in.”