There's a lot more to being a DJ than rockin' a crowd on the dance floor. You have to scour the flea markets for hard-to-get vinyl, keep up-to-date on new releases, put together signature mixes and somehow establish your own recognizable brand.
There's also, says veteran DJ Beverly Bond, the delicate task — particularly if you're a female spinner — of learning how to tiptoe through the gender-politics minefield lurking beneath those jumpy musical sounds you play. Like, how do you balance your own aversion to misogynist lyrics with your audience's demand for the hot new beat of the moment, whether it's insulting to women or not?
"As a DJ, you're right in the line of fire with a lot of these media messages," says Bond, one of the 2011 The Root 100 honorees, who created the nonprofit educational organization Black Girls Rock! five years ago to combat negative images of black girls and women in the media. After more than a decade as a celebrity DJ, Bond has been through all of the ins and outs as a party spinner, earning a reputation as a master of the craft.
Back when she was first getting started with clients like Sarah Jessica Parker, Alicia Keys and others, Bond became acutely attuned to those "media messages." "Naturally, as a DJ, you pay a lot more attention to the lyrical content in the music," she says.
Treatment of women as the subject of various male artists' lyrics? Not so good. There was, for example, that segment of the entertainment industry that persistently referred to women as "hos" and "bitches." There were gratuitous references to specific women's anatomy. And there was an assumption that women should sit in the backseat and keep quiet. And some of the attitudes were coming from women themselves, Bond says.
There's a kind of Stockholm syndrome at work here, Bond suggests. "A lot of girls are almost co-signing the negativity," she says.
The condescension, the insulting language and the casual objectification of women all started to gnaw at Bond until she started Black Girls Rock! At first, it was just a T-shirt that you could buy on Bond's website. "But this was bigger than a T-shirt," she says.
The idea isn't to attack the promoters of misogyny so much as to affirm positive images and celebrate admirable role models, Bond says. And it's catching on globally. "You can see it in the response we're getting from the entire world," she says. " 'Black girls rock' is becoming what 'black is beautiful' was in the '60s and '70s."
The woman who started all of this was born in New York but spent most of her young life in Maryland, either with her footloose, single-parent mom or with relatives to whom she had been farmed out. Shy, inevitably picked on as the new girl in school, Bond took refuge in the eclectic music her mother always had around, from Kurtis Blow to Hugh Masekela to the latest world-music phenomenon that blew in from some distant land. The instability of her early years somehow got turned into a positive, she says. "It made me an independent thinker," she says, "I didn't go with the crowd."
By the time she was 17, Bond was ready to go out on her own. A statuesque 5-foot-9, with the requisite cheekbones to die for, she signed on as a model with the Wilhelmina agency and Elle New Faces, becoming, among other things, a Guess Jeans girl and a Nike model. She also became a frequenter of the New York club scene.
She had an ear for the music and soon she had her own turntables. "I was like a club head, the person who the DJ played for," Bond told the Village Voice, "so it was kinda easy for me to absorb what they did and taking it to finding my own flow." Thus, around 2000, was born DJ Beverly Bond. She has since worked her magic on the 1s and 2s at the VH1 Fashion Awards, the ESPN X Games, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, the NBA All-Star Game and the American Music Awards, as well as events for celebrity clients like Martha Stewart, Michael Jordan and Prince. She was named "Club-land MVP" by the Village Voice in 2001. Bond now lives in New York with her singer husband, Bazaar Royale.
The culminating BGR event for the past two years has been the broadcast on BET of the Black Girls Rock! awards. This year, the event, which aired Nov. 6, honored former Black Panther Angela Davis, gospel singer Shirley Caesar, WNBA president Laurel J. Richie, and actresses Taraji P. Henson and Tatyana Ali, among others.
It was a big, glitzy affair with a futuristic electronic stage constructed at the Paradise Theater in the Bronx, N.Y., and was hosted by Regina King and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Bond thinks Black Girls Rock! has prompted measurable progress in terms of attitudes. You can see it in responses to BGR in the Twitter world, she says. "There was this one girl, in the adult-entertainment business" Bond says. "At least, that's what her picture indicated. She was saying all of these nasty things about us and bragging about her sexual abilities. Then suddenly she got it. She switched what she was saying, and it was like, let me talk about something more than what I am sexually. If this girl got swayed, anybody could get swayed."
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Bond was still associated with Joe's Pub and that her husband is a rapper.
Edmund Newton is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.