Ladies’ First

From its inception of vinyl-filled crates carried to house parties, to the height of celebrity “spinners” and the current push and play era, deejaying has remained a thankless artform. People looking for a good time who use music to escape their realities often find their way to a dance floor — or close proximity to it. Unfortunately, the music takes center stage compared to its actual selector who is deliberately mixing, blending, and finding suitable transitions that enhance the listener’s euphoric experience. Besides the staff, DJs are usually one of the first people to arrive to a venue and one of the last to leave. Residencies allow DJs to do several things: develop a fan base, provide a consistent payday, and create a sense of community among party goers, etc. Queen of the Rare Groove and host of WWOZ’s “Soul Power” show, Melissa “DJ Soul Sister” Weber certainly nailed all of those points in 2004 when she started Hustle! (derived from the J.B.’s Hustle With Speed), her weekly event reminiscent of a house party filled with dancing and soulful music.

There was a shift in New Orleans’ nightlife and its DJ scene particularly, when two of its most popular residencies underwent some recent changes which coincidentally gave birth to a new wave of ladies on the 1s and 2s. In April 2016, The Tipping Point, DJ RQ Away’s weekly event of “good music, good people, and good vibes” left Handsome Willy’s after 7 years and began a search for a new home. Second, DJ Soul Sister’s Hustle! came to an end after a consecutive run of nearly 14 years last May.

One of the many young women developing her craft and booking gigs is Sage Edgerson, a Southern University graduate and mother, who spends her days selling wares at a Baton Rouge vintage clothing boutique and moonlights in Crescent City venues spinning Black girl magic as DJ Legatron Prime. Another is Angel Foy, a Florida State University trained dancer who took the abundance of musical genres that surrounded her undergrad experience and channeled it into her love for turntablism, as DJ Halo.

DJ Soul Sister. Photo courtesy by Avery White.

A considerable amount of Black New Orleanians don’t necessarily search for new music or artists. Local cultural institutions like bounce and brass bands are championed and heard in addition to what’s played on urban radio stations. Unfortunately, the buck and the needle drop stops there. Halo, a self coined “deep house DJ” (think Kaytranada and Cashmere Cat) credits her roots in dance for the variety of influences she interprets when mixing. “Being a dancer, I danced to everything, so I grew up listening to everything: EDM, indie music, even country. It’s broadened the ear I have for music,” she says. There’s some duality that comes into play when it comes to the music that’s inspired DJ Soul Sister over the years. “I say I’m a crate digger first. My main thing is collecting soulful vinyl,” says Weber. However, the music of Slick Leo’s WAIL 105.3 FM show “Live From the Famous Disco” also added to her love for music in retrospect. “I remember the types of music I heard on the station that made me obsessed with it… he’s responsible for me being into go-go music because he would play those records.”

Despite the record number of women that graduate from higher education institutions across the country (compared to their gender counterparts) and the continuous efforts of organizing both in Hollywood and throughout the streets of our country for women’s rights, protections, and equity, women still earn $0.76 for every dollar men earn as full-time employees year round in male oriented and/or led work environments, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Music is one of many industries dominated by males who casually make comments like “You play well for a girl;” or, more specifically in hip-hop, the term “femcee” is used to not only differentiate a woman’s skills for lyricism, songwriting, and storytelling but also to disconnect those talents from the opposite sex.

DJ Legatron Prime. Photo courtesty of Scottie O.

Like many artists within the genre, Legatron Prime subscribes to the motto of seeing is believing: “I don’t have to say anything. I’m not about to sit and explain myself or run my resumé down to you. I’m about to show you why I’m here.”

DJ Halo echoes: “I kind of expect it but I like people’s reaction when they’re like ‘female DJ!’ Especially when they automatically think it’s a guy. But it’s a better feeling when you surprise them, you know? It’s something that they’re not used to and I’m like ‘Yeah, I’m here!’”

Gender disparities never crossed DJ Soul Sister’s path because her self sufficiency and detailed focus didn’t allow them to. “No one was like you can do it but no one told me that I couldn’t either. I just wanted to mix and throw parties and do shows. It probably should have come into play, but gender never came into play ever at all,” she says.

These three women have a combined 27 years under their collective belts within their profession. Being at various stages within their careers, it often takes a village and none of them shy away from providing a resource, guidance, or advice to the next generation of female DJs. When thinking of aspiring DJs younger than herself, DJ Halo (22 years old) says, “I would say just do it. Don’t doubt yourself because she might have something that someone else might not have. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. Listen to yourself.” With DJ Soul Sister’s surging growth and popularity comes opportunity for newer DJs. Having larger crowds and spinning at bigger venues like One Eyed Jacks, Tipitina’s, and the Civic Theatre allows her to pay it forward among her sonic sorority. “Then, the smaller things [venues, events, etc.] can be for more people coming up as I did,” she shares. Individuality still remains a key part of brand building and engagement during the social media age. “Don’t get caught in what everybody else is doing. Stay in your lane. When you stay in your lane you will never experience traffic, unless it’s your own,” affirms Legatron.

Vibes and ambiance are a large part of DJ centered events and can make or break a night of entertainment. Both Halo and Soul Sister share a love of throwing parties. “I grew up being the person that always threw parties. I love people trusting themselves, so when it comes to me deejaying, I get that same feeling I’ve gotten my whole life,” says Halo. Soul Sister enthusiastically adds, “I always wanted to throw the kind of parties that I would want to go to and the kind of music that I would want to be at.”

2018 looks promising for DJ Legatron Prime. In addition to her Primetime weekly at the Dragon’s Den, she wants to start her own monthly “to kind of just reel in all the creatives to be in one space, to network and exchange ideas. I definitely want to travel… and just help keep our culture in the city, to keep what we have here so that way you know I’m from New Orleans.”

DJ Halo. Photo courtesy of DJ FTK.

DJ Halo looks to the future and her own legacy when saying, “I want people to remember me for basically going beyond what a typical DJ is, especially as an African-American female playing things that you don’t hear African-Americans play. I want to bring something new to the table and add on to what they’re doing [DJs like Slumflower, DJ Ruby, etc.] , because they’re doing great!”

With DJ Soul Sister, the change she’s pursued has been strategic and was brought forth “to give myself more time to do less and give myself more time to focus on other things that I’m doing related to music, like this master’s degree [Soul Sister is currently enrolled in a Tulane University’s musicology program] that I’ve gotten myself embroiled in and also to throw bigger and better parties.” Whether spinning with some of funk’s greatest, playing at Saint Heron parties, or slowly but surely finding their way within the city’s diverse musical community, New Orleans DJ culture is well represented and in good hands for the foreseeable future with these three Black women.