DJ Lynnee Denise was destined to deepen her relationship with Spelman College. She’s been spinning on campus for more than a decade – from providing the music for a reception for newly inaugurated president Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum to deejaying on campus for MC Lyte during the College’s “Take Back the Music” campaign with Essence magazine and during the annual Toni Cade Bambara Scholar-Activism Conference. A change in the trajectory of Lynnee’s career has led to her latest collaborations with Spelman.
Last year, the Los Angeles native made her first interactive presentation, “Planet Rock: Techno, House Music and Afrofuturism,” on campus as part of the Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts. Complete with her millennium deejay tool kit (turntables, computer, speaker system, film projector, and a giant screen), the presentation of her performance paper in the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art was filled to capacity. Sitting in the audience was Opal Moore, associate professor of literature and creative writing and the director of Spelman’s honors program.
Developing Alternative Scholarship
“I didn’t know about her work at all until I saw her doing her piece on house music for the Octavia Butler event. I was fascinated,” remembers Moore about Lynnee, whose career was evolving to include more scholarship. “It was interesting to me that she had a real depth of her own research. I wanted to bring her into an honors conversation with the students because we want them to understand that there is a research component to art.”
The synergy was there from the beginning. Moore was in the planning stages of the Honors Program’s Music, Movement and Migration: The Intellectual Beauty Series, part of the 2013-2014 Spelman College/Morehouse College Honors Program Reading Series. She shared with Lynnee that for the first time the Migration series would focus on a nonbook text, a screening of Standing in the Shadows of Motown. “She told me, ‘You’ll be happy to know that I’m doing research on Motown and I’ve been to Detroit,’ ” recalls Moore. “It turned out that what we wanted to do was already a thread in her research.”
Over the past semester, Lynnee has enlightened students and the Spelman community through interactive presentations in the three-part series, produced in collaboration with the honors department, the Museum and the First Year Experience seminar.
The series began in September with a candid discussion about migration and movement. On Oct. 2, Lynnee presented, “From Raunchy to Ratchet: Black Women, the Music Industry and the Politics of Hyper (In)Visibility.” She connected the recent ‘ratchet’ movement with the raunchiness of Bessie Smith, showing students an approach to themes that have historical threads and introducing them to important figures they may not have otherwise explored.
“The level of the student engagement was extremely high,” said Lynnee of the 140 students who attended the second event. “I wanted to communicate to them how they could take this route toward understanding music by connecting it to social movements and history. I wanted them to engage in critical thinking. I think interactive presentations and other alternative ways of engaging information increase the chances of students developing more of an in-depth interest in the subject matter. I was able to achieve some of the same goals that traditional scholars do.”
Connecting the Musical Diaspora
Her most recent presentation was “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood: A Comparative Look at the Musical Lives of Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill.”
“I started something that will probably take a lifetime to finish; an investigation on the impact of fame on the psyche of brilliant Black women artists,” posted Lynnee to her Facebook page about the event that showcased the roots of her scholarship which tracks back to her high school and college days when she began collecting records while working in music stores.
“I’m a product of the Black college experience, a product of Black college radio. I hosted “Civilized Soul,” on WFSK, where I had the freedom to create themes around my shows,” said the deejay, a sociology major and music history minor at Fisk University who has a master’s degree in Ethnic Studies from San Francisco State University.
“I’d have live conversations around everything from Black British music to Black women in jazz. So what I ended up having to do was research. The link was that I had access to music through my show and the record stores I worked in. And I had the intellectual curiosity to learn more about the background story of Black music. In grad school, I had to really hone my research skills and I started traveling to other parts of the world to study the global history of Black music.”
Time spent in far flung locals like Aruba, London, Portugal, Spain, Ghana, Turkey, South Africa, Costa Rica and Mexico manifested as Lynnee’s signature deejay style. She’s known for her eclectic mixes of classic hip-hop, soul, funk and deep house, drawn from Black social and political movements to present the dynamic range of music in the African Diaspora.
Lynnee has been the resident deejay for “Schomburg Nights” at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and performed in the Orchestra of DJs at the Studio Museum in Harlem. From 2007-2011, while she was director of curriculum and content at the non-profit Exalt Youth, which works with teens involved in the criminal justice system, she developed a passion for combining visual arts, youth development, and music production to reflect her broad interest in the concept of humanization through music.
“I would fuse popular music and education tools into my classes, incorporating youth culture and hip hop as a strategy. I saw that I have a gift to teach music and connect it to movements,” said the deejay, who has spun alongside internationally recognized artists like poet Saul Williams and Black Girls Rock founder DJ Beverly Bond. She credits Spelman for helping to further her advancement into post-secondary scholarship.
“Spelman has been a huge part of my development,” said Lynnee, who, in 2011, worked with the College’s Digital Moving Image Salon to produce music for “The Shadow Behind the Rainbow,” the student film of JeShawna Wholley, C’2011. “The ‘Planet Rock’ event officially shifted my focus because I felt like that presentation came so much from my heart. I’ve always wanted to teach at a Black college. I am in my purpose at this Black women’s institution.”