Stacey “Hotwaxx” Hale the “Godmother of House Detroit”
Written by: Sherrilynn Colley
Stacey “Hotwaxx” Hale is Detroit’s first female of House Music. She plays dance floor bangers and orchestral melodies with live music fusion. She has played in legendary venues like the Apollo, Studio 54 and The Warehouse. Hale has performed in London, Ibiza, Berlin, Amsterdam, Toronto and across the USA. Known as a “Detroit treasure,” Hale earned her place in the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee.
At a young age, Hale discovered she could record songs from the radio. With her older brothers’ LPs and components, she would make reel to reel mixtapes. Hale was forward thinking. Back then, the sound was close and play. “I didn’t like the silence, ” she says. “So I would combine them into one continuous dance mix.” Hale choose this method to host and entertain basement parties. It was this choice that started to get her noticed .
At 17, she went into The Chessmate after hours club and coffee shop. Hale heard two songs blending & mixed together. “I climbed up the stairs, observed 2 turntables and a mixer. I thanked them for letting me observe and the next day I went out and bought 2 turntables and a mixer and began practicing”. She got a job at Club Hollywood for $30 a night playing 12 to 6 am. It was predominantly a female after-hours club and would play to about 800 girls. In the late 70’s early 80’s Detroit’s icon, Ken Collier, & her uncle, vocalist Freddie Hughes, taught her “Beat-matching” and the rest is herstory.
Hale was discovered by Duncan Sound Company and she joined their team of 10 DJs that booked for events and clubs all around Detroit and surrounding suburbs. An organization called the “Fun Time Society” introduced her to the mainstream. Her debut was the Cleary Auditorium in Windsor Ontario. There were other female DJ’s at the time, but they were similar to radio announcers playing and talking about the songs. Hale was unique. As she puts it, “I was bringing the heat with emphasis on making them dance and sweat.”
Other early milestones for “Hotwaxx” include hiring in at The Cheeks Club. A phenomenal feat because the ‘Who’s Who’ of Detroit was there. Tommy Hearns, Anita Baker, Rebe Jackson, Vinnie Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, movie stars, musicians and DJ’s from around the world would come Friday and Saturday Nights. While working at The Cheeks, she went to school full time earning a degree in Electrical Engineering from Lawrence Tech.
In 1985 she beat out over 600 DJs in WJLB’s Motor City Mix Contest. She submitted two mixes – one in a man’s name and one in hers. Both were selected. The finalists, which included rappers, played and performed at the Fox Theater. Hale was the overall winner claiming the 10K prize and amazing opportunities. “I listened to the producer of the show, Don Was of Was Not Was, and he stated “I was now a performer, not a DJ,” he said, “I want you to put that in your mind and act accordingly.” Hale admits “I was progressive and I would step outside the box but, I’d observed my audience. To be successful you have to know what you are doing and adjust to what they want.”
Opportunities did open up. DJing on television’s “The New Dance Show” and supplying radio mixes for The Electrifying Mojo and WJLB. She spent ten yeas as a Billboard reporter, opening doors everywhere. Hale produced mixes for Columbia Records, MCA, and Mercury Records. “Now I’m playing big clubs and I’m daring and on the cutting edge so I figured just because they haven’t heard a song it doesn’t mean I can’t play it, especially when I know it’s a hit.”
In the late 80’s early 90’s, Hale went into radio and was given her own show at WJLB. She was the first female to play house music on Detroit radio. It became evident she reflected more energy in the club so WJLB started live broadcasting at The Warehouse. She then moved to the competition, 96.3, where she continued to travel extensively and lead live broadcasts.
Besides radio shows and podcasts, Hale performed with her two bands. Her own “Nyumba Muziki“ which means house music in Swahili, and Black Women Rock (BWR). BWR perform annually at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. She is currently the Assistant Music Director/DJ performing in Jessica Care Moore’s “Black Women Rock.” Members included bassist Divinity Roxx, Beyonce and B52’s bassist Tracy Wormworth, guitarist/songwriter Kat Dyson, vocalists Nona Hendryx, Kimberly Nicole, Steffanie Christi’an and many more. BWR has performed in Atlanta, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Detroit to name a few. Each year features 5 – 6 performers/ artists/ vocalist using different women. They play funk, soul, and rock paying homage to women like Funk Rock Diva, “Betty Davis” (Miles Davis’ wife), considered a pioneer for women rock artists.
Hale made another mark in history by participating in the first Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival that later evolved into Movement, the Electronic Music Festival held annually at Hart Plaza. It is one of the largest and longest-running dance music events in the world. This techno adventure lasts 3 days attracting performers and an audience from around the globe. Hale played Red Bull Radio host for the monthly show, Generations, and was a part of the week-long broadcasting before Movement.
She is also known to perform with Charivari Detroit, a 3-day festival of music and after-parties. Hale puts on the Sheometry Music and Arts Festival, featuring artists yet to be discovered as well as artists of international fame. On the 5 stages, one named after Ken Collier, mostly females are performing.
Hale continues to play a major role in the Techno scene by blending house and techno with funk, hip hop and Motown soul creating a diverse, multi-age following. After attending several Winter Music Conferences (WMC) in Miami, Hale & Detroit’s John Collins started the Detroit Regional Music Conference (DRMC) to help expose local Detroit artists. She teaches DJing & production at SPIN INC., Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME), Girls Rock Detroit (GRD), Give a Beat, Seraphine Collective and Detroit Students of the Arts (DSA). She will be instructing at Girls Rock Windsor when they open this summer. In addition, she collaborated with other big artists on the Juicy Lucy EP in 2017 – a project that strives to give young artists the tools to create music in a world where computers and music equipment are not accessible.
Hale didn’t set out to be “the first woman” DJ who mixed, or the “Godmother of House. ” “I just did it because it was inside me and I love the music.” Hale has a passion for Jazz, Fusion, Funk and Rock and shared the stage with superstars from all genres. When I asked her what moment when she knew she had made it, she responded: “When I was on stage at Pine Knob (DTE) performing with Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child, Juvenile & Mark Morrison. Her music influences are Chaka Khan of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Louie Vega an American DJ, record producer and Grammy Award Winner. She believes “You can’t just be mediocre, you have to be on top of your game.”
When I asked her how she managed to stay in music all these years and what advice she had for artists, she said that keeping her day job in electrical engineering allowed her many opportunities in music. She could take opportunities and know she still had security. She keeps things interesting with property management and home refurbishing. “ I didn’t have to work so hard but it was always the passion of the music that kept me going.”
What impressed me the most about Hale is her commitment to family. She chose to stay in this area to care for her mother. We talked about the gift of caring for others and teaching those around you the importance of generational care. She spoke passionately about the incredible experience sharing the end of life could be and the honor of being that special caregiver in someone’s life.
Along with family, Hale remained in Detroit because of her love of Motown music history, her passion for the birthplace of Techno, and its development here in Detroit. Stay tuned for “Girls Gone Vinyl” – a documentary movie on female DJ’s featuring this activist and supporter of the arts, a true Detroit Icon, and the “Godmother of House”.