If you had told Melissa A. Weber that someday she would be the most well known female DJ in New Orleans, the multiple-award-winning “Queen of Rare Groove,” she never would have believed you.
“I was horribly shy,” she says. “I always loved music – my family is full of musicians – but I never would have thought of myself as any kind of performer.”
Introduced to funk music by her older male cousins, Weber says she quickly became what’s known as a “crate digger.”
“I’m all vinyl,” she says. “It’s all about the thrill of the hunt. I spent every Saturday in high school scavenging garage sales.” For Weber, the goal is always to find and celebrate the unknown musicians of the past. “I love the 1970s and mid-’80s, the soul music that wasn’t on the top 40 charts. Those 45s where maybe there were only 200 pressed.”
One day, while watching a new station called MTV, Weber saw something she’d never seen before. “Yo MTV Raps came on, and there was this group, Salt-n-Pepa … and Spinderella,” she says. “I was about 12 or 13 years old. I’d never seen a woman manipulate records that way. It was amazing.”
During her freshman year of college she got her first job in music.
“I was licking envelopes and answering phones at WWOZ,” she says. “I never wanted to be on the air. But then, one day, the woman who did voiceovers left and she said I really needed to think about doing it.”
After a 10-minute lesson on the basics of being a DJ from the boyfriend of a friend, Weber says she was off and running. “Everything just came naturally,” she says.
DJ Soul Sister was born.
It wasn’t long before Weber’s midnight show, “Soul Power,” got bumped up to 8 p.m., her current time slot. It is currently the longest-running rare groove radio show in the country.
A veteran of the New Orleans festival circuit, Weber is more than a performer, she’s a recognized authority on the funk, soul, disco, hip-hop and rare groove music and musicians. She has interviewed musicians including George Clinton and Chuck Brown, and been a feature on documentaries, lectures, panel discussions and presented her own “Musically Speaking” film series.
It seems fitting that the “Queen of Rare Groove” is herself a rare breed.
“I keep asking people if they know of any other female DJs who do rare groove,” she says. “So far, they’ve all said no. I thought someone would take my place by now, but so far, nobody’s come forward.”
Mentor: That would have to be my mom. She didn’t get what I did at first, but she always supported me – driving me to and from my midnight shows every night.
Defining moment: When the station moved my show from midnight to 8 p.m. I fought it. I was terrified people wouldn’t like me. That first show I got phone calls from George Porter Jr. and Snooks Eaglin. That’s when I finally though, “OK, this might be a good idea.”
Advice for young women: Don’t be afraid to go into an industry with no or few women. Just make sure you’re assertive and you take care of business.
Goals: Write more. Do more research. This fall I’m starting graduate school studies at Tulane for their Master of Arts degree in musicology. I’m really excited about that. I want to teach.
Favorite thing about what I do: Making people happy and making myself happy. I don’t play a single song I don’t love.