“Last night, a DJ saved my life.” At some point in all our lives, we’ve experienced what that phrase means. Whether on a dance floor or driving with the windows down and the radio blasting, that feeling of having the perfect song hit at the perfect moment is a universal musical rite of passage. As the pandemic flipped our world upside down, DJs brought us together with nightly sets across social media, connecting us at a time when we needed it the most.
This week, NMAAM’s Women In Harmony series is dedicated to the Black women DJs whose skills on the turntables break barriers and glass ceilings, empower and uplift, and who are leading the way for a new generation of masters of the mix.
As one of the most important figures in house music, Yvonne Turner’s name is virtually unknown. And yet, she’s behind one of the most iconic, ubiquitous songs to emerge from the genre. In 1984, Colonel Abrams’ debut single, “Music is the Answer,” took the club scene by storm, and the single’s instrumental dub version made an even bigger impact. Yvonne Turner was one who worked the magic on that groundbreaking remix, but she was mis-credited as Evan Turner. To make matters worse, she wasn’t credited at all on subsequent pressings of the song. Thankfully, that wasn’t the last we’d hear of this brilliant producer and remixer.
Colonel Abrams, “Music is the Answer” Dub Version
Following her work on the Abrams hit, Turner blessed records by Willie Colón, Whitney Houston, Louie Vega, and Lenny Kravitz; her remix of his 1991 smash “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over” remains unreleased. Despite an impressive catalogue, Turner struggled to ascend to the same level of visibility and respect as her male peers, and eventually changed careers. However, she didn’t leave music altogether; Turner toured with dance and house artist Loleatta Holloway from the mid-’90s until Holloway’s death in 2011. In 2018, her mix of Louie Vega’s “Can’t Let You Go” scored a GRAMMY nomination for Best Remixed Recording.
“Black girls rock” pops up on tee shirts, social media posts, and in everyday conversation. The woman behind the term, Beverly Bond, got her start as a model before launching her career as a DJ in the late ‘90s. After purchasing a set of turntables, the New York native began cultivating her skills on the ones and twos, digging into her vast vinyl collection to fine-tune her craft. She quickly became a sought-after DJ, gracing the rig at parties hosted by the likes of Diddy, Prince, and D’Angelo, and elevated awards shows, fashion shows, and sporting events.
In 2006, Bond founded Black Girls Rock! with the mission of providing mentorship for Black girls and teens. The Black Girls Rock! Awards recognizes Black girls and women making a difference in their communities and the world at large.
As one of the first and only women DJs of the disco era, DJ Sharon White played some of the most renowned clubs in the world, including the Saint, Studio 54, and the Roxy. The New York native, who is also an accomplished percussionist, actually got her start in radio before transitioning to the club scene. In her 40-plus-year career, White boasts a number of firsts: she was the first woman to become a DJ reporter for Billboard Magazine, and became the first woman to head promotions for a major label when she joined Motown Records.
Her legendary sets at spots like Paradise Garage eventually led to opportunities to spin oversees; she traveled to Reykjavik, Iceland to perform at a USO facility, and even ventured to Saudi Arabia to DJ a party for the king. White retired from DJ’ing in 1994 but, after a decade-long hiatus, returned to the booth in 2004. The 2011 Legends of Vinyl DJ Hall of Fame inductee continues to spin around the world, and her SoundCloud mixes bring her inimitable style and soundscape right into your living room.
Née Ivy Awino, PoiZon Ivy the DJ hails from Nairobi but grew up in Dallas, TX. After studying and mastering piano and cello as a child, she eventually made her way to Marquette University, where she got her first taste of that DJ life with her own campus radio show, “Poison Ivy After Dark.” She quickly found herself an in-demand opener for acts like Nas and Lupe Fiasco, and joined Milwaukee radio station WKKV-FM as the first woman on the V100.7 Mix Squad.
Upon returning to Dallas, she became a member of KKDA K104’s mix squad, and also held down the 1s and 2s for the WNBA’s Dallas Wings. Now the official team DJ for the Dallas Mavericks, the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree is a mentor, advocate, and activist blazing trails in communities and arenas worldwide. Get to know one of today’s hottest DJs on her Mixcloud channel.
First Fridays Connected with Novena Carmel
Novena Carmel grew up in a musical household, surrounded by an eclectic collection of rhythms and sounds that provided a steady source of inspiration. Born and raised in San Francisco, she moved to Los Angeles to study communications and African American studies at UCLA, and began her career booking entertainment for LA clubs like Temple Bar and Zanzibar. Carmel, who also happens to be the daughter of Sly Stone, launched her DJ career in the early 2010s, and quickly became a fixture at local venues like the Natural History Museum, California African American Museum, and Ace Hotel. As a member of several LA area bands, Carmel played stages as diverse as Lollapalooza and Coachella, bringing her deep love and knowledge of an array of musical genres to festival audiences far and wide.
In 2018, she joined LA’s NPR affiliate KCRW as an on-air personality and, in 2021, took the reins of the popular morning show, Morning Becomes Eclectic alongside co-host Anthony Valadez.
As our Women’s History Month celebration continues, follow NMAAM on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily tributes to Black women in music and our Women In Harmony video series. And mark your calendars for Wednesday, March 24, when Sips & Stanzas presents R.E.S.P.E.C.T. HERSTORY: The Genius of Aretha Franklin. Click here for more information and to RSVP!