DJ Wayne Williams – “I’m A People Person”
From local DJ to major record label executive to producer of one of the world’s largest house events, music is the story of Wayne Williams’ life. Noted for being the first DJ to bring disco from Chicago’s underground, gay dance clubs to a young, receptive audience on Chicago’s south side, Wayne quickly became an in-demand DJ as a teenager, playing a different party every night. To meet the growing demand for these sounds, the young entrepreneur founded The Chosen Few Disco Corp. (later renamed The Chosen Few DJs), bringing on board other young DJs—Jesse Saunders, Tony Hatchett, Alan King and Andre Hatchett—whose skills and passion would help shape the sound that became house music. As Wayne grew with the music, he started working for Trax Records in Chicago, the first house music record label. There, he recorded his first track, “Undercover”, under the alias Dr. Derelict.
His work attracted the attention of London-based Jive Records, where he became an A&R executive in charge of the label’s Chicago studio. From day one, Wayne had a knack for developing hit-makers, from guiding the career of house music star Mr. Lee to transforming Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s sound with hits like “Summer Time” to signing and developing Chicago crooner R. Kelly. He has worked with a host of R&B, pop and hip hop artists, including Jennifer Hudson, Aretha Franklin, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Aaliyah, Mystikal, Joe, and Raheem DeVaughn. As Senior Vice President of A&R at RCA Records, Wayne has most recently helped orchestrate the musical comeback of former GAP Band front man, Charlie Wilson. He has been featured and profiled in print and broadcast media outlets, books and films, including Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton’s “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”; Jonathan Fleming’s “What Kind of House Party Is This?: History of a Music Revolution”; and documentaries such as “Hands to the Sky” and “The Unusual Suspects: Once Upon a Time in House Music”.
In 2012, Wayne and the rest of the Chosen Few DJs also were recognized at a celebration honoring the 100 Most Influential DJs in Chicago House Music history. He also has continued to keep his finger on the pulse of house music, playing at clubs and events around the world, including Amsterdam Dance Event, Winter Music Conference, Stan Zeff’s Tambor Party in Atlanta, Fox Hollow in Houston, King King LA, New York’s Roots Night at Cielo and Sullivan Room, and Chicago’s The Shrine and House of Blues. Wayne also has joined together with Kenny Dope to produce the periodic party, “Two Nations”, in New York. Wayne also continues to produce new dance classics, including the chart-topping “There is a Place”, “You’re The Feeling”, “Acid House”, “Music Saved My Life”, as well as Jennifer Hudson’s Grammy-nominated hit, “It’s Your World” in 2014. In April 2014, following the untimely death of his close friend and mentor, Frankie Knuckles, Wayne was asked to speak at the dance music icon’s Chicago and New York memorial services. Wayne was named as a Top 20 DJ by New York’s award winning Robbi Promoter.
Q&A with S&S
S&S: What’s your style of music? How do you describe it?
Wayne Williams: Soulful house music with energy.
S&S: Who or what was most instrumental to you when it came to music?
Wayne Williams: My mom & dad. My dad was really big into jazz music. My mom was really big into R&B. Between the two sides – those were my early musical backgrounds and teachings.
S&S: What drives you creatively?
Wayne Williams: God. He has given me the drive and the gift to be driven. This is something I was born with. So for me, it had to come from God.
S&S: How much does your audience influence you and your music selection?
Wayne Williams: I’m a people person. I always watch my audience and get great feedback from them, which I always take into consideration. I think it’s very important to know your audience. So, I love to lead them with new music that I know they’re gonna like.
S&S: What artists or genres do you listen to when you’re not working?
Wayne Williams: Soulful house music, classical and R&B.
S&S: Do you have any favorite memories of growing up with your family?
Wayne Williams: Lots! I have a big family. I have many uncles, aunts and cousins, so we would always go over each other’s houses and have a good time. One of my favorite memories was going over my aunt’s house. She turned me on to a Loggins & Messina record called “Pathway to Glory,” and I just really, really enjoyed that song when I heard it. The arrangement and how it was done…that particular song really had an impact on me.
S&S: Is there anything you would like people to know about you?
Wayne Williams: I really, truly wish that the world would get along with one another. I really, truly do.
S&S: Are there any charities you are working with or excited to tell us about?
Wayne Williams: I work with this organization in Chicago called Featherfist. It’s a charity organization that works with the homeless. Not only does it take them off street, but they teach computer technology to help keep them off the street. Also, the Chosen Few DJs are starting a charitable organization called The Beyond The Groove Foundation.
S&S: Are there any questions that you wish people would ask you?
Wayne Williams: Where can I buy that song?!
S&S: And on the flip side of that, are there any questions or references you wish people would stop asking or using?
Wayne Williams: Asking for the hookup!
S&S: What artist(s) have you been the most excited to work with?
Wayne Williams: All of them!
S&S: Are there any artists that you dream of working with on a collaboration?
Wayne Williams: Halle Berry [laughs]! With auto tune, I could make it happen. That’s my answer.
S&S: What can we look forward to next from you?
Wayne Williams: I’m working with a new project…a new song called “Get Down.” I’m also working with Chosen Few DJs to extend the picnic from one day to two days. That will happen next year – Jul 2nd-3rd. We’ll be out in the park for two days instead of one.
S&S: What legacy would you like to leave?
Wayne Williams: That I left people with hope and kindness. That I treated people respectfully no matter who they were.
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