The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Hispanicize Executive Director of Music, Katherine Johnson Gunn, and Music Director and Curator, Vanessa James 

Katherine Johnson Gunn
Katherine Johnson Gunn

Katherine Johnson Gunn and Vanessa James hold the keys to one of the most influential Latino events in the United States – Hispanicize.

Now in its sixth oear and held in Miami, Fla., Hispanicize is the iconic, largest annual event for Latino trendsetters and newsmakers in journalism, blogging, marketing, entertainment and tech entrepreneurship.

As Hispanicize’s Co-Founder and Executive Director of Music (Johnson Gunn), and Music Director and Curator (James), these two powerhouses are helping shape the future of Latino music by managing the musical track of the event, providing a platform for up-and-coming acts and established names to showcase their talents among industry influencers.

Vanessa James

Together they devise innovative concepts, provide vision and direction, carefully hand-pick performing bands, and manage the marketing and promotional aspects of the event. Previous musical acts and honorees include Panamanian hip-hop band Los Rakas, Grammy award-winning Colombian singer Carlos Vives, L.A.-based Mexican-American band La Santa Cecilia, and many more.

Hispanicize aside, James, a native South Floridian with Trinidian and Venezuelan roots, is a well-known figure in the radio world who kept Florida on the pulse of all things new in music, fashion, entertainment news, and more. Based in L.A. with Peruvian roots, Johnson Gunn has music in her DNA, rocked the corporate PR world, and also writes for Tres Chicas, a lifestyle blog she runs with her two sisters.

This year Hispanicize is taking place March 16-20 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami. To register and learn more about the event, visit

To learn more about Johnson Gunn and James, visit and

WiMN: Vanessa, you’re fully enveloped in all things music! Tell us when and how you first became involved with Hispanicize.

VJ: I actually hosted Hispanicize back in 2012. Once I was engulfed in the experience, I realized that there was a very important element missing from the overall conference, and that was music. Latinos, much like other cultures, live and breathe music, so I presented the idea to curate and the direct the music platform and add to the overall conference experience.

WiMN: How long have you been with Hispanicize, and in what different capacities? Did you have aspirations to become a music supervisor?

KJG: I’ve been with Hispanicize for six years. In the beginning, I was a partner who only consulted and was not very hands-on, as I was working in public relations while doing Hispanicize part-time or at nights. In 2011, we grew to the point of needing someone to handle logistics and overall event production full-time, and that’s when I left my corporate PR gig and threw myself full force into this craziness. I wanted to work at a record label or manage bands when I was younger; I even toured with some bands… but when reality set in and I entered the corporate world, it seemed like a distant dream. It’s been amazing to incorporate music with my public relations and marketing career; it’s the best of both worlds. I never aspired to be a music supervisor; it just sort of happened. 

WiMN: When did Hispanicize first implement a true music festival, and what exactly was it?

VJ: In 2013, Hispanicize kicked off the music festival/experience with the launch of Artist on the Rise, a platform dedicated to Latinos who aren’t tied to a record label, don’t have major budgets, but are talented and deserved to be heard.

KJG: The first year we incorporated music was in 2013, but in 2014 we became more of a mini “Music Festival.” This was thanks to the launch of the Artist On The Rise Stage, which is my favorite event during Hispanicize week. I have always been a huge supporter of raw, undiscovered talent, and this stage gives me the ability to bring artists who are not on major labels or known in the mainstream world, on a stage in front of an influential audience.

WiMN: How does Hispanicize’s music festival position itself amongst other festivals?

KJG: I think the big differentiator is, well obviously that we cater to a Latino audience. I think there are a lot of festivals out there that only include Spanish-speaking music groups or singers, and although we also have that, we have a lot who are Hispanic, of Latino descent, but do not speak Spanish. Also the type of people that attend our event is key—they aren’t just any music fan—they are the most influential Latinos across the nation.

In our audience you will find anyone from the President of Marketing for Toyota and the VP of Target, to the head of a major music label, a YouTube star, an Instagram Fashion blogger, and an award-winning film director. What this means to an artist is that when you perform at Hispanicize, you are performing in front of movers and shakers and decision-makers—the type of people who could put one video of you on their Instagram and it will go viral, or the type that if they see something special in you, will make things happen in your career.

WiMN: Who are some of the companies Hispanicize has partnered with for its music festival, and what has been the outcome?

VJ: Gain was one of the first supporters of our Artist OnThe Rise stage. They had recently done a campaign with La Santa Cecilia and they felt it was a great fit to incorporate their campaign theme, “Music To Your Nose” into our music festival. The result was a very organic collaboration. MTV network’s Tr3s was our media partner and all the bands were featured on the channel’s Top 20 music show that weekend. It was great exposure for everyone involved. We’ve also partnered with AT&T, Pandora, Target, Gibson and Brown-Forman and 3M.

WiMN: Tell us some of the most memorable performances at Hispanicize.

KJG: Just one? Hum, well I guess I have to say Danay Suarez. She was this tiny girl whom I didn’t know much about, and once she took the stage blew us all away. She was a powerhouse! That performance impressed everyone, from record labels to attendees who had never heard of her before. After she performed all I kept hearing was ‘Where can I buy her album??’ or ‘Where did you guys find her? She’s amazing!’ That’s the best reaction you can ask for.

Another memorable moment, that was not a performance but a panel (we have music panels at Hispanicize as well), was having Rudy Sarzo from Quiet Riot/Ozzy/Whitesnake speak on a panel about his journey from being a young Cuban boy who didn’t know English to becoming a huge rockstar! It was amazing giving him a Latinovator award and seeing him get emotional because he’s rarely recognized by the Latino community. That moment gave me goosebumps and was the highlight of 2014 for me.

WiMN: What can attendees expect from Hispanicize’s music festival this year compared to previous years?

VJ: We are opening our final Closing Night Concert to the general public for the first time in Hispanicize history. We actually have tickets on sale on Ticketmaster. If you search “Hispanicize” on, you’ll find tickets to our show. This has been very exciting for us and a big step towards what’s to come.

WiMN: What does an artist have to do if he/she is interested in playing at the Hispanicize music festival?

KJG: Shoot me an email Unless it’s a month before the event (when I’m in full madness mode), I will actually listen to every single SoundCloud/YouTube link/MP3 I am sent. I love discovering new music. Sometimes I will even work with the artist’s YouTube channel playing in the background to see how it makes me feel. I love musicians, I respect their art, and I will do all I can to support them. Unfortunately we get so many submissions and have limited slots, so only a handful get to perform at the event—but that doesn’t mean I won’t tweet about you!

WiMN: What opportunities does Hispanicize offer for musical instrument manufacturers?

KJG: Several! As a lot of our programs include performances, manufacturers can co-brand panels, stages, provide brand ambassadors to engage with the audience and even build out full-scale showcases. We’re very open to concepts and creative ways to integrate – just say the word.

WiMN: Which artists would you love to have on your stage?

KJG: Wow, I would love to have Ana Tijoux, Julietta Venegas, Maná. And who doesn’t love Marc Anthony?

VJ: Ricky Martin, Juan Luis Guerra, Marc Anthony, Julieta Venegas, The Gypsy Kings, El Gran Combo, Reik, Fonseca, Demi Lovato, Christina Aguilera… the list goes on and on. Thankfully, there is so much talent all around, that we’ve been lucky to have a coveted list of talent every year on our stages.

WiMN: Favorite songs to play air guitar to?

VJ: Wow – tough one. I would have to say, Lenny Kravitz’ “Are you gonna go my way.” I also love the soft acoustic of Ricky Martin and Julieta Venegas’ “Tu Recuerdo.” Classics.

KJG: I love Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing!”

WiMN: Anything else you’d like to add?

VJ: Music has always been a passion point for me. Working then within this realm becomes less about work and more about expression. I’m excited about where this platform is going. I’d like to look back in 15 years and say YES- I helped to bring something new, dynamic, different and inclusive to the industry.