Kelli Hand, Detroit DJ and music industry trailblazer, dies at 56

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Kelli Hand, Detroit DJ and music industry trailblazer, dies at 56
Hand was one of the first female DJs in Detroit’s music scene and became known for her catalog of albums and extended plays of house and techno with the start of her own label, Acacia Records, in 1990.

by Johnny Diaz

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Kelli Hand, a longtime DJ known as K-Hand who was named the “first lady of Detroit” for her musical accomplishments, was found dead Aug. 3 at her home in Detroit. She was 56.

Her death was confirmed by a spokesperson for the Wayne County medical examiner, who said the cause was related to arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Paramount Artists, which represented 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.

Hand was one of the first female DJs in Detroit’s music scene and became known for her catalog of albums and extended plays of house and techno with the start of her own label, Acacia Records, in 1990.

In 2017, the Detroit City Council honored Hand with a resolution that called her the “first lady of Detroit” for being a pioneer in the city’s techno music scene and for being “an international legend” who toured clubs and electronic music festivals.

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

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

YouTube videos captured Hand wearing a headset and smiling and dancing in place as she entertained crowds with her mixes of bouncy beats at nightclubs and events while touring the world.

Hand, whose legal given name was Kelley, was born Sept. 15, 1964, and raised in Detroit, where her childhood revolved around music, particularly the drums, according to her website.

Her passion for rhythm led her to study music theory in college in New York. She also enhanced her music education in the 1980s by frequenting the Paradise Garage nightclub, where, her site says, she soaked up the sounds of the emergent genre of music that would become known as house.

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

“After frequenting 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, I got to play these records in order to hear them! That led to purchasing a couple turntables, which also led me to DJ'ing in my own bedroom,” she said, adding that doing so led her to do a residence at Zipper’s Nightclub in Detroit.

Hand also talked about how the DJ scene was dominated by men when she was starting out and how that played a role in using the gender-neutral name K-Hand for her own music.

“I wanted to come out with something that was kind of catchy,” she recalled. “At the same time, I didn’t want people to know that I was a girl, because I was just minding the music business. I’m like, OK, what’s going to happen if my name comes out, and I’m a girl, because mostly it’s a lot of guys? This was back in the day. So the label suggested ‘K-Hand.’”

On her website, she said that music was not about how someone looks or about the DJ’s skills but about “being ‘true’ to yourself, and having the ability to express yourself creatively through your own self-confidence that is within you.”

Some of her better-known songs include “Think About It,” “Flash Back” and her 1994 breakout single, “Global Warning,” on the British label Warp Records. Billboard said those songs “put her in league” with Detroit’s other top DJs.

In a 2000 review in The New York Times about female DJs and rappers taking part in a music festival, Hand talked about independent record production. When she took over the dance floor, the writer said, “a sense of freedom was thick in the air.”

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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