Live Music, Social Causes

How New Orleans’ ‘Queen of Rare Groove’ DJ Soul Sister gives back with vinyl

The Queen of Rare Groove talks about how she chooses music and the gift of giving back

One visit to DJ Soul Sister’s website and the first words that pop up are “Queen of Rare Groove.”

Soul Sister is rare, indeed. In an age when disc jockeys tote their musical choices on a MacBook for their sets, Soul Sister spins 100 percent from vinyl records.

DJ Soul Sister performs during a benefit concert for the Make it Right Foundation at the House of Blues in 2015. (Photo by Josh Brasted/WireImage)

The first time I felt the groove was at a Prince celebration she threw shortly after his death in 2016. I can’t remember anyone standing still, and I danced enough that night that I met the steps goal I had on my Apple Watch for the entire week in just three hours. Every year after, the “Prince party” has been a ritual, and if I miss out, I feel it in my bones.

Once a year, she has a holiday crate dig at Domino Records, where people can meet her in person and talk about music, exchange stories and ideas, and share. But the party also has a purpose; attendees are asked to bring books for Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners from their wish list. Those who do are entered in a raffle for concert tickets or gift certificates.

DJ Soul Sister sat down to talk about what sharing the music means to her, and why her groove is so unique.

You spin all vinyl, and lately, there’s been a resurgence in vinyl records. Everyone wants a record player now and it went from being this old thing to being the cool thing to do. How do you feel about that?

“I think it’s cool for people to do what they want to do! For me, it’s never been a style or fad, it’s just what I do. I just like vinyl, but I’m not a vinyl snob. I just tend to find a lot more of the things I like on wax. And the things I enjoy on wax, they’re not available digitally. So I have to go looking for them, otherwise, I’ll never find them.”

Did it turn into a necessity instead of a choice?

“Not a necessity. I mean, the way you framed it makes it sound like I’m looking for records for DJ’ing. I’m never looking for records for DJ’ing. I’m only looking for records that make me happy, and then those are the records that wind up going in my set. I never play a set thinking, “Oh, what does someone else like?’ or ‘Oh, what is a song that people like that I don’t like?’ I never play a song that I don’t like, never ever, never ever. So when I’m looking for things, it’s always for me to enjoy in my house, and then if I feel the feeling, then I’ll bring it out.”

How’d you get into DJ’ing?

“Well, that’s a long story but basically, I call myself a crate digger first. So, since I was little, I was always looking for soulful music that I love. Then I started, to make a very long story short, I started my show on WWOZ, so that is one of the ways I share my music, and then I started live DJ’ing and the original disco mix, which entails mixing and blending records, and that is a way I share music. I also present lectures and talks related to music topics so that’s another way I share music. So, it’s never just been about a DJ, it’s always been about sharing music in various different ways. Now, I’m in grad school for musicology and writing my thesis will be another way to share music topics that I believe in.”

Knowing that you share music that makes you happy, that comes from the heart, how do you feel when people come up to you and say that they love your show?

Well, it makes me feel very happy. I started throwing parties because I wanted to see the kind of parties happen that I didn’t see happening. The kind of parties I wanted to be at, those are the kind of parties I throw. So, when someone says that it makes me feel like I’m not the only one.

How did you get involved with Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners?

“So this is the 12th annual one of my holiday crate digs that I present at Domino Sound because it’s my favorite record store. It was always a holiday crate dig. Where people can come, shop for records, ask me questions, we can chat about music, and I play music that’s 100 percent from the store’s stock. So I don’t bring anything from home. Then if someone hears it as it’s playing, and they’re like, ‘I want it!’, then they can buy it and it’s fun. So that has always been what it was. So for the 10th anniversary, I wanted to include giving back in some way. So, we’ve had various recipients. We’ve had Big Class, which is now 826 New Orleans (a program that supports young writers). This year, Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners came across my radar and I said I wanted them to be the recipient of my holiday drive.

How does it feel to know that you’re helping them?

“I mean honestly, I’ve been blessed to do what I like to do so giving back in some way is not even a question. It’s like, what more can I do? That’s why the Prince annual party that I do is what it is. After he passed away and you started seeing all these different ways that he was giving that no one knew when he was alive, out of nowhere! I always wanted to do a party just to give back, where 100 percent of the proceeds go to the organization. So my holiday crate dig is one of those ways.”

Anything else you want to add about your holiday crate dig?

“This year was the biggest one. I also really want to acknowledge that I’ve gotten donations for those who bring those who bring gifts for the drive. Every single year, Winners Circle and BUKU have donated tickets and I got a pair of tickets from the House of Blues for the George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic show, which I’m opening one of the two performances. And then Matt with Domino Sound here donates a hefty gift certificate. I’m just lucky that people give me stuff and that way I can inspire other people to give so we can all give back.”

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