These 9 Black Women Defined House Music Before Beyoncé’s Grammys Win

These 9 Black Women Defined House Music Before Beyoncé’s Grammys Win

Image Source: Getty / Monica Morgan / Larry Busacca

Beyoncé just made history when she took home the Grammy for best dance/electronic music album for “Renaissance,” netting her 32nd Grammy — the most of any artist ever. From the start, Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” era has been a celebration of house music, beginning with its lead single “Break My Soul,” which was released in June 2022.

“Break My Soul” features a sample of Robin S.’s house hit “Show Me Love.” Before she was sampled on the song, Robin S. was a major hitmaker in the house-music world. Her 1993 track “Show Me Love” was a hit in the early ’90s, and her singles “Luv 4 Luv” and “What I Do Best” also topped the charts and helped establish the house genre around the world.

Beyoncé’s feature gave “Show Me Love” a second life, and it also catalyzed a fresh wave of love for house, a genre Robin S.’s track helped to define. “Renaissance” also features house-music legend Honey Dijon, who contributed writing and production to “Cozy” and “Alien Superstar,” and iconic house-music producer Curtis Alan Jones also has a writing credit on “Cozy,” to name a few. Altogether, the album is a well-deserved tribute to the genre and the people who made it happen.

House music originated as a locus of escape and release for the Black, queer, and working-class communities who shaped it. The genre has its origins in Chicago in the ’80s, when a group of Black DJs with backgrounds in disco started embracing synthesizers and remixing classic disco tracks. The origins of house can be traced to a Chicago nightclub called the Warehouse, where DJ Frankie Knuckles, who cut his teeth playing disco in New York City clubs that often catered to queer, Black, and working-class audiences who shaped house and nightclub culture. In Chicago, Knuckles began creating tracks with the steady four-four rhythm that would come to define house.

Soon, a group called the Hot Mix 5 — which consisted of DJs Farley “Funkin” Keith, Mickey “Mixin” Oliver, Ralphi Rosario, Kenny “Jammin” Jason, and Scott “Smokin” Silz — began chopping up tracks and creating radio mixes on air, and their radio show soon exploded in popularity.

From there, house began to spread. Offshoots like Detroit techno and acid house emerged, and the genre spread to cities across the US and around the world. Eventually, it would evolve into genres such as jungle, drum and bass, and happy hardcore.

Along the way, Black women played a critical role in shaping and expanding the genre’s reach. Many of their contributions have been erased, but their impact remains. Ahead, check out some of the most influential Black women in house music.

1. DJ Sharon White

Sharon White started out her career as a radio DJ in the ’70s and was one of the few major women DJs of the disco era. She was the first woman to headline two influential New York nightclubs, The Saint and The Paradise Garage, and also served as the first DJ in any gay club on Fire Island. She was an influential creator in the disco and house scenes and has played sets all over the world.

2. Kym Mazelle

Kym Mazelle is sometimes referred to as the “First Lady of House Music.” She started her own label in New York City in the ’80s and wound up creating influential house music. Her debut album, “Crazy,” was released in 1989 in the UK and went on to release chart-topping hits. Her cover of “Young Hearts Run Free” was featured by Baz Luhrmann in the film “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet” and went triple platinum. Today, she’s credited with bringing house music to Britain.

3. Martha Wash

Martha Wash started her music career with The Weather Girls, known for their hit “It’s Raining Men.” She went on to enter the house-music world and featured on several major hits; her success on the charts earned her the title “The Queen of Clubland.” However, she was often not credited for her work. Her vocals are featured on nearly every song on Black Box’s record “Dreamland,” for example, though she successfully sued the band for lost royalties.

4. Stacey “Hotwaxx” Hale

DJ Stacey “Hotwaxx” Hale was a major figure in the Detroit house-music scene. Often referred to as the Godmother of House, Hale played venues like The Warehouse and Studio 54. She’s also known for founding Detroit’s Lesbians of Color organization. “As for why [Detroit techno and house were such safe havens for queer parties, it was] because all the head DJs were gay,” she told Nylon. “We were just out thinking out of the box. We didn’t do it because we were gay. We were doing it because this was what was we liked.”

5. Crystal Waters

New Jersey’s Crystal Waters is the creator of some of the most iconic house-music tracks. Her song “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” is regarded as one of the major formative tracks of house and dance music, and all three of her albums went platinum.

6. Loleatta Holloway

Loleatta Holloway is of the most sampled musician in popular music, according to The Independent. She was influential in the disco scene, releasing major hits like “Hit and Run” and “Love Sensation.” She also collaborated with Dan Hartman on the song “Relight My Fire,” and sings in Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s No. 1 hit “Good Vibrations.” Her vocals were also featured in Black Box’s hit song “Ride on Time,” though she was not credited and later successfully sued the band.

7. CeCe Peniston

House music icon Cecilia “CeCe” Peniston often fused R&B with house. Her song “Finally,” which started as a poem she wrote in class, was an immediate international success, and it was featured in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and quickly became an LGBTQ+ anthem. She went on to release a number of hits and is still making music today.

“We created a different narrative; as far as pop culture just thought that pop music or R&B music was hot, they soon realized like ‘Oh wait a minute, there’s some dance songs over here that are hot as well. Let me make sure that I listen to this too,'” she told Zora in 2020 of her and her peers’ role in popularizing house.

8. Ultra Naté

Baltimore’s Ultra Naté is one of the most successful dance artists of all time. Her songs “Free,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” and “Automatic” are still often played by DJs today, and she’s known for fusing genres like jazz, house, gospel, and rock in her music. She’s still touring and releasing new music today.

9. DJ Lady D

Chicago’s DJ Lady D is known for her house, techno, and disco sets. She began professionally DJing in Chicago in the ’90s and formed the all-women DJ collective Superjane in order to “prove that women DJs were more than a novelty act,” per 5Mag. “I’m inspired to present great music to people who are courageous enough to want something different than what they’re being personally force-fed through media, television, radio, even streaming services,” she said in a 2022 interview with the Columbia Chronicle.

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