Detroit DJ and music industry pioneer Kelli Hand dies aged 56

Kelli Hand, a longtime disc jockey named K-Hand, named “First Lady of Detroit” for her musical achievements, was found dead on August 3 at her Detroit home. she was 56.

Her death was confirmed by a spokesman for the Wayne County coroner who said the cause was related to arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Paramount Artists, who represented Ms. Hand, paid tribute to her on social media.

“Kelli was undoubtedly the first lady of Detroit and a trailblazer for women in the music industry,” the company said on Instagram.

Ms. Hand was one of the first female DJs in Detroit’s music scene and became known for her catalog of albums and extensive house and techno games when she founded her own label, Acacia Records, in 1990.

In 2017, the Detroit City Council honored Ms. Hand with a resolution naming her the “First Lady of Detroit” for being a pioneer of the city’s techno music scene and “an international legend” through electronic clubs and festivals Music toured.

The certificate highlighted some of her accomplishments in the male-dominated electronic music industry in the 1990s, including the fact that she was the first woman to release house and techno music.

“Such an honor and exciting,” wrote Ms. Hand on Instagram at the time.

YouTube videos showed Ms. Hand wearing a headset and smiling and dancing on the spot as she entertained the crowd with her mixes of bouncing beats at nightclubs and events as she toured the world.

Ms. Hand, whose legal first name was Kelley, was born on September 15, 1964 and grew up in Detroit, where her website says her childhood revolved around music, especially drums.

Her passion for rhythm led her to study music theory at college in New York. In the 1980s, she expanded her music education by attending the Paradise Garage nightclub, where, according to her website, she soaked up the sounds of the burgeoning musical genre that became known as house.

In a 2015 interview with the Detroit Metro Times, she reflected her interest in record making after visiting the club in New York City and others in Chicago.

“After visiting Paradise Garage so many times, I wanted to buy the records because I loved the music,” she told The Metro Times. “So the next step was that I had to play these records to hear them! That led me to buy a couple of turntables, which also made me hang up in my own bedroom, ”she said, adding that it gave her a residency at Zipper’s Nightclub in Detroit.

Ms. Hand also spoke about how the DJ scene was dominated by men in the beginning and how this helped to use the gender neutral name K-Hand on her own music.

“I wanted to come up with something that was kind of catchy,” she recalls. “At the same time, I didn’t want people to know I was a girl because I was just doing the music business. I guess OK what if my name comes out and I’m a girl because most of the time it’s a lot of guys? That was then. So the label suggested ‘K-HAND’. “

On her website, she said that music is not about how someone looks or the skills of the DJ, it is about “being ‘true’ to yourself and expressing yourself creatively through your own confidence “.

Her better-known songs include “Think About It”, “Flash Back” and her breakout single “Global Warning” from 1994 on the British label Warp Records. Billboard said these songs put them “in league” with Detroit’s other top disc jockeys.

In a 2000 New York Times review of female disc jockeys and rappers attending a music festival, Ms. Hand talked about independent record production. As she took the dance floor, the writer said “there was a feeling of freedom in the air”.

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Neil Vigdor contributed the reporting and Susan Beachy contributed the research.