She was known as “DJ Magic” during her undergraduate days at Howard for her talent spinning music at parties, but now Dionne Ledbetter (B.F.A. ’20) has added another credential to her list: filmmaker.
During her junior year at Howard, Ledbetter wanted to highlight the unique experiences, history and artistry of Howard University DJs by creating her own documentary by graduation. Her final project, “In the Mix,” premiered on her graduation day, which occurred during the pandemic, in May 2020.
“In the Mix” follows the stories of 10 DJs who matriculated through the Mecca over a 15-year timespan, focusing on their personal journeys. Their stories range from becoming the Washington Football Team Gameday DJ (DJ Premonition) to working with artists like Nipsey Hussle (DJ Chubb E Swagg).
A large part of the film features DJs once named “Howard’s Hottest,” a competition hosted by student-run radio station WHBC 96.3. This annual tradition was co-created by Joseph Smalls Jackson (B.A. ’11), who is featured in the documentary. Ledbetter holds this title as well, which welcomed her “into a loving lineage of Howard’s most talented DJs,” she says.
The unique comradeship is what sparked her inspiration for the documentary. In March 2019, Ledbetter attended a gathering with fellow Howard DJs. DJ Chubb E Swagg began narrating their collective experiences.
“He was telling some really interesting tales about how we are all connected and his history with DJing, how his DJing impacted this DJ and so on,” she says. “That was the very first day I started thinking about the documentary.”
Through the production process, Ledbetter gained skills like filming, interviewing and editing as well as a deeper understanding and appreciation of the craft. Ledbetter says she adopted a spiritual perspective of DJing; it’s no longer focusing solely on functionality.
Ledbetter, whose persona “DJ Magic” stems from the phrase “Black Girl Magic,” has continued to DJ. During the pandemic, she has also kept in touch with the Howard DJ community, joining each other’s livestreamed sets and giving each other tips.
“We have all been moving through this pandemic together and helping each other out,” she says.