Natalie Hill, aka DJ Chocolate Star, died last week.
I’d known of Natalie for years, largely through her son, DJ Clent, and Clent’s son, DJ Corey, both of whom I’ve written about for the Reader. Much of the past few years I wanted to find a way to talk to Natalie Hill, since I knew, in a vague way, that her musical past influenced her son and grandson. Darnell Payne, founder of Chicago dance collective U-Phi-U, briefly described his relationship with Natalie when I interviewed him for an oral history of Black dance culture and the Bud Billiken Parade last summer. So, when it came time to pitch profiles for the 2022 People Issue, I knew who I had to interview.
Clent put me in touch with his mom, who was a little confused about why I wanted to talk to her. I explained my rationale; she’s an interesting person, and what little I knew of her made me want to talk to her. My role as a journalist for a local newspaper is to document what’s happening in this city, who lives here, and how individuals interact with communities that produce art that moves me and other people. Natalie didn’t have a lot of people reaching out to her for interviews, which is a shame, because she gave me one of my favorite interviews from the past year. There’s a reason Clent’s peers and collaborators—producers who shaped critical Chicago dance subgenres such as ghetto house, juke, and footwork—have a deep fondness for Natalie, whom they call Mama Hill.
I’m thankful Natalie entrusted me with her story, and thankful I could share it with Chicagoans, because she is an important figure in the development of Black dance music. I’m thankful my work gave me the opportunity to tell more people about her. And, on a more personal note, I’m thankful I had the chance to talk with her, to hear the love for her family come through whenever she talked about Clent and Corey. I do not take it for granted that this job gives me the chance to call up other Chicagoans and talk to them about their community.