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KQED: Black, the "Mother of DJs" in the Bay Area, is Receiving the Acclaim She Merits


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Black rolls through the San Francisco Pride Parade on her float on June 26, 2022. She was named Community Grand Marshal for her 30 years of work as a DJ, queer party organizer and mentor.  (Katia Ten)

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n the early ’90s, when Black was just getting started as a DJ, she and her friends didn’t have a lot of women to look up to in the Bay Area’s growing hip-hop scene. But there was a beacon: Pam the Funkstress, the cool, calm turntablist from Boots Riley’s political rap group The Coup. Pam could scratch with the best of them.

Black, who was in her early 20s, showed up to a TV studio in San Francisco where host Dominique DiPrima was interviewing Pam for the KRON-TV youth culture show Home Turf. When it was time for audience questions, Black got on the mic to ask about how to get started as a DJ. “I got so nervous,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Can you do this?’” She remembers Pam telling her, “This is not a male-driven thing. If you like music and you get out there and practice enough, you can be part of the scene. You can be part of the San Francisco nightlife.”

Black took those words to heart. Over the past 30 years, she’s made a major impact on music and LGBTQ+ nightlife in the Bay Area as a DJ, a party producer and a mentor who’s taught her craft to over a dozen DJs, mostly women. And this Pride month, she’s getting the recognition she deserves: at the SF Pride Parade last weekend, she served as Community Grand Marshal—or, as Black calls it, Grand Marsha, in honor of the influential trans activist Marsha P. Johnson. On June 28, Black also received a Black LGBTQ+ Champion Recognition Award from the Urban League of Greater San Francisco Bay Area.

[Watch: For KQED Live, DJs Black, David Harness and Steve Fabus and activist/entertainer Tita Aida discuss the history of queer nightlife in the Bay Area with host Nastia Voynovskaya.]

Although appreciative of these honors, Black isn’t focused on herself: while she has the mic, she’s using her new platforms to talk about unity and solidarity between all women as the Supreme Court and Republican Party attack reproductive rights and access to trans healthcare. “We need allies for what’s happening around women[’s issues] right now,” she says.

At Pride, her float was a welcome disruption. Amid the benign, corporate-sponsored rainbow displays on Market Street, Black could be found behind the decks in the bed of a truck full of women partying and holding protest signs like “Abort the Court” and “Housing for Everyone.”

“Riding down that street, I was seeing how many people are happy that we’re back,” she says of the first in-person SF Pride celebration in two years. “They’re happy we’re having human touch.”

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lack hasn’t always felt so embraced. When she moved from Houston to San Francisco in the early ’90s to find a gay mecca, not everything was as she expected. She found that mainstream gay spaces in the Castro catered to white men, and lesbian parties prioritized white women. Clubs would often ask Black people for multiple forms of ID, she says, or ignore them for bar service.

“That’s one of the reasons why I named myself Black, you know, because I wanted them to say it,” she says. “I don’t know what the problem is, but you need to say it,” she’d respond when people got uncomfortable.

Black sought out safe spaces like Eagle Creek Tavern, San Francisco’s first Black-owned gay bar that opened in 1990, where she’d spin classic house records like Inner City’s “Big Fun.” In those days, she also DJed at the popular party Lift with David Harness, who helped popularize house music in the Bay Area with his show Your Momma’s House on KMEL.

The HERstory crew, circa 2002. Top row, left to right: Shanta, Aza, Hobbs, Samantha (Sister Squid), Black, Dovanna, Boyuyaka, Amalia. Bottom row: Jessica, Loushana Rosa, Sandra, Leema, Tiffany, Aima the Dreamer. (Courtesy of Black)

These spaces were more inclusive, but Black still found herself searching for parties that centered like-minded women. So over a stoned conversation one night, Black and her friends came up with a concept that would leave a mark on the Bay Area party scene for years to come. Along with fellow DJs Nadeeah, Saun Toy, Tei, Lauren, RaheNi and Ananda, she started the party A.B.L.U.N.T., which stood for Asians, Black and Latins Uniting New Tribes. It was one of the first parties—if not the first—that centered queer women of color in the Bay Area.

“We need to be around each other just to hold ourselves up, just to know that we’re in the same plight,” Black says.

Because of the aforementioned discrimination at nightclubs, a lot of the A.B.L.U.N.T. parties happened at underground warehouses. “We were gonna play the stuff nobody wanted to play,” she continues. “They were banning hip-hop from clubs, at least from girl clubs and definitely from the queer scene.”

In the late ’90s, Black also became part of the HERstory Crew, a multicultural, interdisciplinary artist collective of DJs, musicians, spoken word poets and visual and culinary artists. Her HERStory sisters helped her get bigger gigs, and she shared stages with Erykah Badu and The Roots.

“We were a collective of women artists supporting artistry, and we’re still like that with each other to this day. We’re still friends,” Black says.

Pam the Funkstress and Black (left to right) circa 2008. (Courtesy of Black)

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hat support was energizing for Black, and she decided to keep the cycle going. In the 2000s, she helped produce the popular queer parties Hella Gay and Ships in the Night. And over the years, she mentored around 15 DJs, helping them master the turntables, CDJs and controllers as digital technology emerged.

DJ Emancipation recalls how Black pulled her and her friend, Rosa La Rumorosa, aside at a party in the early 2000s. They were playing songs off CDs, and Black offered to teach them how to use turntables. “She taught me how to mix using old-school house on vinyl, and I’ll never forget that experience,” she says.

“She was one of the main promoters at the time for the queer scene, and she would book us for her parties,” Emancipation continues. “So not only did she mentor us, but she provided a platform for our craft—she was so dedicated to us. It’s so rare to find a connection like that with mentorship nowadays.”

Emancipation’s party Soulovely with DJ Lady Ryan (another of Black’s mentees) and MC Aima the Dreamer (a HERstory member) has been going strong for 10 years now. DJ and activist Guerrilla Pump, who considers Black a mentor even though she didn’t teach him to spin, is helping lead a ballroom culture resurgence in Oakland with his Oakland to All events.

While there weren’t many spaces that centered—or were even inclusive of—queer women of color when Black started out, she planted the seeds for a community that’s flourishing 30 years later.

“I’m proud of all of them,” Black says of her mentees. “They all learned the basics and then took their music and did it.”

Black DJs every second Friday at 7th West in Oakland for her party, All Spice.

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