DJs For Dancing Womyn


Toward the end of the 1970s, the local women’s rock bands were playing larger, out-of-the-Valley music circuits. As “wimmin’s” dances grew in popularity, the music was more frequently provided by newly initiated professional lesbian disk jockeys, many of them Northampton residents. Dancing may be one of the oldest subculture traditions. It’s been important not just as recreation and community bonding, but also as part of the mating ritual. Longtime Northampton DJ known as Mary V[azquez] commented, “You often [didn’t] see women reappear at dances until they [were] looking for a new partner.” Mary also observed that lesbians into music and dancing were a different community from lesbians into softball.

Through correspondence and several interviews, Mary helped fill in the local DJ herstory. She recalled that Sheryl W. [later Jeribu (spelling?)] was the first Northampton lesbian DJ. Sheryl W. started in 1975 at the Gala Café and continued on regular nights there with assistance from Angela G. through 1979. Sheryl played a lot of Rhythm and Blues, spinning mostly Black women’s music with some by men.

larger lk gala_edited-2Laura Kaye watercolor of the Gala Café (Bridge St. Northampton) 1981, commissioned by Mary Vazquez, used by permission of both.

Mary had followed all the developing women’s bands in the Valley and became interested in becoming a DJ when she heard Diane S. spinning for Wednesday Nights for Women at Farley Lodge/UMass. The 1976 remnants of the UMass Gay Women’s Caucus became the Lesbian Union and successfully lobbied for their own space and student government funding. In the summers of 1977 and 1978, the Lesbian Union offered events open to women from both off and on the UMass/Amherst campus. Diane S. was also part of the Women’s Media Project, producing and teaching women radio broadcasting at WMUA.

gayla womens media project julaug78_edited-1Notice in the Women’s Media Project newsletter Jul/Aug 1978

Sheryl let Mary assist a bit at the Gala Café and then let Mary borrow her equipment for gigs at other places. Soon Mary wanted to have her own equipment instead of being a roadie and lugging someone else’s heavy crate of records.

As she described recently, “ I met a very nice music man that made speakers in the late 70’s. They were beautiful but I could not afford them. He found me two speakers I could afford so I used them, an amplifier, and two record players I bought at a tag sale. In later years I was able to buy more professional turntables made for DJing and two CD players but continued to use those original speakers. They were very heavy but they worked just fine and did not cost me anything. The music had a good sound. “

“ I also had a great assistant that was strong so she did all the heavy lifting. I had what were called 12 inch [vinyl] records that contained one song so for a 3 hour gig I had to have between two and three milk crates full of 12 inch records that were also very heavy.  I used some 45’s but only used them on occasion. Set up time took about 30 minutes. It was a lot of equipment from the car to the dance place. I later used cassettes at the very beginning before CD’s. Too difficult to cue up. Now I could do the same gig with two light weight speakers and a computer.”

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Mary Vazquez vinyl record collection. The plastic crates on the left were used to take a selection to dance gigs. Photo courtesy of Mary Vazquez.

With her new equipment Mary began working Common Womon Club’s  summer disco dances in 1978-79. The dances were first held in the Common Womon and later in the low-ceilinged basement of the Polish American Club/Home on Pearl Street in Northampton. Mary got paid $30 for a four hour dance gig.

cwc dances july 1981_edited-1

undated flyer for a Common Womon Club dance

Mary Vazquez noted that ‘Hamp lesbians liked different music than the gay women at the Girls Club in Chicopee. While “Women’s Music” – that is, feminist – was beginning to be produced this decade (most notably through Olivia Records) except for a few slow songs, it just wasn’t danceable. This made it challenging for the new DJs to put together enough musicfor a four-hour dance that was not politically objectionable and also got women up on their feet and moving. In the beginning, Mary drew a lot on pop music by women as well, as, she said, “less offensive” men like Stevie Wonder to create the right eclectic mix.

By the end of the seventies, disco music began to come out with its distinctive dance beat. Disco was readily adopted by local lesbians, easing the DJ’s job of trying to be politically correct while getting women to have a good time dancing.

Mary Vazquez: “Here’s a few tunes from the seventies that I myself played when I first began DJing for the women’s community. As I said, it was a tough crowd as I had to be very careful that I was always politically correct. This often would put a ‘crimp’ in my personal choices. Here are some of the specific tunes that I know I played and were always a big hit on the dance floor:                                               [all with youtube links. please have a little dance 🙂 KM]

Love Hangover,’ Diana Ross, 1976

Don’t Leave Me This way,’ Thelma Houston, 1977

 ‘Dancing Queen,’ Abba, 1978

 ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie,’ Taste of Honey

 ‘If I Can’t Have You, Yvonne Ellerman, 1977

 ‘Bad Girls, Donna Summer, 1979

 ‘I Will Survive,’ Gloria Gaynor, 1978 (still a dance floor pleaser)

 ‘YMCA, Village People, 1979

 ‘Ring My Bell, Anita Ward

 ‘MacArthur Park,’ Donna Summer

 ‘Good Times, Chic, 1979

 ‘Hot Stuff.’ Donna Summer.

 Mary summed the list up:  “Most of these songs if played today would still be crowd pleasers. The end of the 70s was the beginning of the Disco era, a great time for dancing the night away.”

gala fresh ink mar 8 79_edited-1Ad in Fresh Ink, Mar. 8, 1979

Mary V. recalls that Mary C. and Faye Wilson also began DJing at about the same time she did, circa 77-78.  Mary C. spun the Common Womon Club’s New Year’s Eve Ball in ’77 at the Polish Home, a memorable costume event I wish we had pictures of. Faye incorporated New Wave into her mix. When the Polish Club/Home was sold circa 1979, the lesbian community lost a valuable large music venue. Since the Gala was sold and razed that year, as well, Northampton lesbians had to go out of town to dance. In the early 1980s, three of these pioneering DJs joined together to find a new venue in Amherst. Jeribu(Sheryl), Faye and Mary V. formed La Mix (the mix of their different kinds of dance music) to produce a regular series of womyn’s dances, a story for another time.

Sources:

__[Raymond,] Kaymarion and Letalien, Jacqueline. The Valley Women’s Movement: a Herstorical Chronology 1968-78. Ceres Inc. Northampton. 1978. https://www.vwhc.org/timeline.htmlChronology

__Vazquez, Mary. Interviewed by Kaymarion Raymond. July 6 and Sep. 1, 1998.

__Vazquez, Mary. Email correspondence Nov 29, 2004, June-Nov.2019.

__Vazquez, Mary. Music of the 70’s. Email to Kaymarion. January 03, 2005.

__Dyke Doings. Sep/Oct 1976. Northampton.

__Women’s Media Project newsletter. July/Aug 1978.

__Carney, Maureen. “The Common Womon Keeps the Pot Boiling.” Valley Women’s Voice. Sep. 1979.

Further reading: Women in DJing is a popular topic right now. Mary shared this recent New York Times article, which nicely sums it up, past and present, the challenge of changing technology and the scarcity of women in the profession;

__Women Put a Spin on the D.J’s Art by Tammy La Gorce. New York Times. July 28, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/07/23/nyregion/women-djs-brooklyn.html

In the next decade as recording technology rapidly evolved Mary Vazquez and other DJs had to make the change from vinyl records to cassette tapes to CDs. For those interested here are some links to that tech history;

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8qbz7b/an-illustrated-history-of-dj-gear

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disc_jockey 

Mary and the three other women mentioned were rare birds in the 70s male dominated Discjockey world. That hasn’t changed, as these articles attest:

__I Grew Up Loving Dance Music. But Where Are All The Female DJs? by Serena Kutchinsky 17 April 2017. She not only offers statistics but asks “what can be done to make dance music less pale, male, stale?”

https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2017/04/149671/female-djs-annie-mac-nightwave

__Women Weigh In On The Art of DJing by Sesali Bowen July 19, 2017.

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2017/07/164637/hip-hop-djs-2017-female-disc-jockeys

 

 

 

 

 

An Intense Confluence of Radical Ideas: Umass Fall 1971


 

The 1970 co-founders of UMass/Amherst Student Homophile League (see previous posts)  had rapidly moved into other forms of activism creating a leadership vacuum within the group. Kathryn Girard joined the Women’s Caucus of the School of Education and Michael Obligado started, with other more radical SHL members, the local Gay Liberation Front. I stepped into this opening for leadership that Autumn of 1971, editing a few editions of SHL’s newsletter the Closet Door, and ushering the group through the process of getting recognized status as a student group and student senate funding.

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Kathyrn Girard and I outside the GLF space in the Student Union basement (across from the Hatch) early 1971, photographer unknown

Shortly after I started going to SHL meetings in the fall of 1970, I broke up with my partner Susan  and moved into a rooming house in Northampton. I had to leave the cats and dog in her custody. In addition to a subscription to the lesbian magazine the Ladder, my partner and I had established a mutual correspondence with its editor Barbara Grier (publically Gene Damon). Susan sent clippings of relevant news and book reviews. I contributed black and white line drawings on demand that were published as illustrations under the pseudonym Kate McColl.

ladder illustration04052016
Illustration I did for the Ladder under the pseudonym of Kate McColl. I don’t have the date for this issue.

I sent Barbara a letter telling her of this change in relationship, and also about my involvement with the area’s first gay group, SHL. I think she was in St. Louis, Missouri, working as a librarian and living with a partner, Helen. Her response was, “…enjoy your gay lib play therapy.. but when the boys take over go find a women’s lib groups and educate them…”

b grier memo edited
Dictaphone memo sent to me from Barbara Grier dated 11.12.70.

It took an eventful year before I finally understood and took Barbara’s advice. I was, after all, a recent veteran out of Ohio. I was Republican (“I like Ike“) stock and older than most UMass undergrads. I looked around at freshman orientation in 1969, at the anti-war protests, hippies, and drugs, and, when surveyed by the school, projected my four year experience there would make me, in a reactionary way, more conservative. Ha ha!!

I cannot adequately describe the intense confluence of radical ideas flooding the campus (and Valley) at that time, some of which were (literally) hallucinogenic. This was a massive influx that stunned then stirred my brain into bursts of new synapses. Light bulbs turning on, indeed.

Sifting through a book of paper scraps jammed together, I see the autumn of 1971 as being pivotal, not only for my personal identity, but as a further base-laying for Northampton’s unique LGBTQ culture. Three historical developments are apparent then: 1.) An early organizational separation between gay women and gay men; 2.) a wide emphasis on radical (as opposed to reform) feminism that began receiving regular energy boosts from nationally known feminists (and lesbians); and 3.) the melding of these two circumstances that would lead to the emergence of a phenomenally strong and multi-faceted expression of Lesbian feminism.

Several news items of note appeared in the October 1971 Closet Door. There are notices of the beginnings of three collectives. The women’s collective would live together in North Amherst on Leverett Road. They overlapped with another newly forming group, the women’s newspaper collective that was to produce the area’s first feminist newspaper, The Full Moon. The Men’s Collective mentioned was, in fact, gay. Michael and friends rented a large house on Butler Place in Northampton. Included in the newsletter is the invitation to attend weekly parties there after the SHL Thursday evening meetings. I think the cover charge for the parties  helped pay the rent. The guys would show off their latest drag costumes garnered from the free store at the Valley Women’s Center.

closet door collectives formedited
Closet Door SHL newsletter Oct. 1971

I am not sure how it happened but by the end of Nov. 1971 I had written a multipage report on the status of women and activism at UMass which was printed in the alternative campus paper, Poor Richard’s.  In the meantime, I came out to my mother over the phone because I was included in the first mainstream media coverage of the Valley’s Gay Movement, Dec.7 in the Springfield Union. My mother’s response was that she had read something in the Readers’ Digest and would pray for me.

gay society forms  edited
Courtesy Springfield Union published Dec. 7, 1971.
michael n me in shl office04052016
Michael and I clowning around in front of the Union photographer, Really? Print this!

I also let it be known in SHL that I would be doing less in the group as, instead, I organized a Dec. 8 first meeting of the Gay Women’s Caucus. The space advertised was JQA lounge near the brand new Southwest residential area Women’s Center, in what, I heard, was a former janitor’s closet. The Caucus was the foremother of the UMass Lesbian Union. The attendance was small and my memory needs to be refreshed by others (Jane? Dale?), but my recollection is that the small size and very wide range of interests meant we mostly met socially with each other rather than suggested potlucks or CR/study/action groups. It was a clear statement, however, that gay women had needs separate from gay men, something that other women outside SHL may have already concluded as they joined feminist groups on campus or Amherst Women’s Liberation.

first mtg gwc ad04052016
schedule of events at the end of 1971 published in an article I wrote in Poor Richard’s

 

The year ended for me with euphoria when nationally known feminist and poet Robin Morgan spoke at UMass as part of the Distinguished Visitors Program. (I would like to know who orchestrated this major funding coup.) Addressing a capacity crowd of mostly women in the Student Union Ballroom, she focused on the current state of radical feminism in the U.S. It was the first of many solo appearances by Robin in the Valley. She had previously visited the Smith Campus at the invitation of undergraduate Sandy Lilydahl in 1968 as part of WITCH, Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell.

I fell in love with Robin when she refused to take questions from men after the lecture. I also loved her handling of a student reporter. A few of us sat with her in the campus center coffee shop afterwards, where a male from the Collegian persisted in asking her questions.  My mouth must have dropped open when she told him to “stick his prick in his mouth and sew it shut.” Oh my!

robin at umass 7104052016
Photo caption reads “Robin…makes a point about why she feels women.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian Dec. 15, 1971. My guess is that since Robin wouldn’t talk to male reporters they finally got it and allowed a woman to report. From my scrapbook.

A few days later a (first) regional women’s conference was convened at UMass by the Leverett Rd. Women’s Collective. Among the ten scheduled-in-advance workshops was a “gay” one, facilitated by yours truly. Little did I anticipate the explosion of political activity I would be swept into over the coming decade, except I knew it would be with women, with sisters.

regional womens conf 7104052016
First (?) regional women’s conference 1971.

Sources:

__ McColl, Kate. Illustration. The Ladder. Circa 1970-71.

__Grier, Barbara. Memo note to Kay Raymond. Dated 11.12.70.

__Closet Door, newsletter of the Student Homophile League, UMass Amherst. Oct 1971.

__Bradley, Jeff. “Gay Society Emerging on UMass Campus.” Springfield Union. Dec. 7, 1971.

__Raymond Kay M. “Part II. The Other 42%.” Poor Richard’s: a Weekly Magazine. UMass Amherst. Dec. 3, 1971.

__Spencer, Buffy. “Ms. Morgan Says Women’s Movement Alive.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian. Amherst. Dec. 15, 1971.

__Raymond, Kay(marion) and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. A Herstorical Chronology of the Valley Women’s Movement, 1968-1978. Ceres, Inc. Northampton. 1978.

__Flyer, mimeographed. Regional Women’s Conference.  UMass Amherst. Dec. 17-19, 1971.