The definition of chosen—1. Having been selected as the best or most appropriate or according to Merriam Webster: one who is the object of choice or of divine favor.
It’s a wonder how a group of young men in the mid-70’s from the South Side of Chicago attending high school would choose the origin of this word to name their DJ squad—the Chosen Few Disco Incorporated. Mendel Catholic High School students, Wayne Williams, Robert “Batman” Ellis, Ewer Abney, and Jamie Shelton were the founding members of the group..
The name evolved from the Bible, “many are called but few are chosen.” The phrase stuck with Wayne Williams who immediately picking up the passion to DJ. The musical scene for young people during this time came ‘fresh’ out of the disco and funk phase but still had the influence of soul music, gradually building an underground punk rock movement among inner city kids. There was no racial barrier of its musical influence.
It was an exciting time to be in the midst of something that didn’t have ownership by the Baby Boomers who had carved their place in society through the protests of the Civil Rights movement. Their children would have a better life and opportunity to define themselves—to experience a different kind of freedom of self -expression. While the inner-city youth in Bronx, New York was creating a cultural hip hop movement that would change how we view music and social change today—Chicago Black youth in the 1970’s was carving out their own page in history books.
House music is often considered the offspring of Disco and young people often held parties in school gyms such as Mendel, Resurrection, Kenwood and other non-traditional spaces like South Commons and the Blue Gargoyle. The Chosen Few Disco Corporation was considered one of the first groups made up of a set group of young teenage DJs that shared similar tastes in music.
“I had been real popular as a new DJ because I was the only one on the South Side playing Disco music. I wanted to take advantage of that edge because I was getting more requests for parties – some two or three on the same night,” said Williams. “I would always have triple copies of records. So, I thought if I could get other DJs to play with me; I could split the crates up and make twice the amount of money. That was the motivation for starting the group.”
Williams knew that they had something special when the demand was too overwhelming to fill the requests to spin at so many parties.
There were changes in the group and eventually Tony Hatchett was invited to join the Chosen Few DJ squad.
“Wayne had heard me DJ’ing and thought I was good and saw how I controlled the crowd. The next year I graduated from high school and folks were going away to college. When Jesse left for college the parties were growing. Only a select group of DJs could handle the parties. So, Wayne asked me if I wanted to join because he couldn’t handle them by himself.” said Hatchett.
Alan King grew up in the Hyde Park community, a student at the University of Chicago Lab School and had built up his own following spinning at private parties for classmates and friends.
“Frankie Knuckles came to town in 1977 and started at the Warehouse so you had that whole scene going on. When I joined the Chosen Few DJs in the 80’s, we had a real scene on the South Side with the underground dance parties.” he said. “The place called the Loft at 14th St. and Michigan among other places. It was the beginning the DJ and House music culture. It was an exciting time being in Chicago at ground zero in what has become a worldwide phenomena.”
Adding King to the Chosen Few expanded the group’s reach and brought two worlds of youth collided–the kids of working blue class parents and students of affluent parents fused gradually building the group’s name. At the time, the younger brother of Tony, Andre Hatchett was helping out the guys as the roadie, shadowing them at parties. One evening, Tony and Wayne had another commitment and left Andre to spin at alone.
“We had a birthday party at our house for our aunt and my brother had brought the equipment. They had other parties to go to so they left me there with two turntables and a mixer. When everyone else was gone – I realized I was in love. I’ve been loving it every since.”
The popularity of the parties was like a land swell, and then a young DJ transplant from New York—Frankie
Knuckles began spinning at the Warehouse. The style of music that Knuckles played not only introduced his technique of blending old disco classics together with new Euro pop and synthesized beats creating an aggregated high-energy fusion of recycled soul. Word traveled to local DJs about the parties at the Warehouse building a network of DJs and setting the bar higher. As the scene evolved into the 1980’s, young people were experimenting with sounds on their 808’s fusing synthesized sounds, and punk rock together, along with the chorus ringing throughout the song.
Interestingly enough House music takes it’s name from the Warehouse venue and is much associated directly to Knuckles as the architect of the House Music sound that changed the direction of the music. Knuckles describes, ‘House’ music as an extreme re-invention of old school dance music. So Hip Hop was the popular music of the day while House was more underground and more a kin to the jazz scene of days past.
Jesse Saunders is the younger brother of Wayne Williams and he was creating his own creative sound of ‘House,’ while still in high school—he and friend, Vince Lawrence produced one of the first commercially distributed House records, “On and On”. He built his own following making mix tapes. It makes sense that, his older brother approached him to join the Chosen Few.
“I was making tapes and selling them but I got bored. Wayne had heard the mixed-tapes and thought it would be a good idea to bring me on board. The first spot I played at was at the Burning Spear had left turntables at my house So I practiced, caught on fast and got pretty good at it.” he explained.
Kim Parham was a young teenager when she became friends with Alan, Tony, Andre and Wayne. Affectionately, known as the ‘rock’ of the group she contributes the success of the Chosen Few to their 30-year plus friendship.
“I’ve known them all since we were 14 or 15 years old. Had a super love for House music and was everywhere with the guys.” she said.
Over time members went on to attend college, others began their professional careers or grew their presence in the music industry. Although, spinning music was never far, they all continued to spin at events but not as often. The Hatchett family celebrates their reunion with an intimate picnic every year around the 4th of July.
Still in communication the Chosen Few stayed in communication, so a handful of friends joined the Hatchett family BBQ the first year in 1990. The intimate outdoor picnics began in the park behind the Museum of Science and Industry, and expanded each year as word began to reach others to bring their grills and chairs while members of the Chosen Few DJ squad would spin music.
Learning from his mentors, Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy and Wayne – Hatchett believes it’s important to connect with people. “I mingle with the crowd. I always chant with them and then I go into the booth and spin. I check to see what they want to hear. They know they can come to me and tell me. I love that.” he added.
Terry Hunter joined the Chosen Few as a DJ in 2007 with open arms from everyone. He was also a producer with a strong following throughout the city, releasing dance projects and working with various producers on the international scene. Outside of having a genuine respect for the veteran members, Hunter worked on label projects with Wayne. Adding him to the group, was a natural fit. Considered as the jokester of the group, his sense of humor and relentless worki ethic has become the glue to keep the group together.
Williams explained. “Terry was already legend before he joined us. I recognized his talent and invisioned him rising because he’s very creative. I knew he hadn’t peaked and there was so much that we could get from Terry as a member.”
Another invitation from overseas prevented Terry from playing at his first Chosen Few House music reunion picnic. “I was pissed that I couldn’t be at that particular picnic because I had a gig overseas. It was an honor. We were all brothers before Chosen Few. So that becoming a member solidified it,” said Hunter.
The following year, he ended up being the ‘closer’ for the picnic. “When I closed for the first time. The pressure was unbelievable! I knew I had to come hard with it and I did. That was one of the craziest times for me” he said.
Attending the picnic became a summertime ritual that had grown from a family gathering to attracting over 2000 people. Eventually they outgrew the picnic grounds behind the The word was out and people came out to enjoy the fellas spinning their favorite old school, deep house music. Folks came out with chairs and small tents, creating the nickname ‘tent city’.
Parham recalls. “One year, we had a monsoon at one of our picnics. There was one or two people there with a tent and it rained and rained. Wayne continued to spin in the rain and took off his shirt. He got on the mic and yelled, ‘We’re going to do this!’ People went up in a roar and it was muddy like Woodstock but the music never stopped. That was the origination of ‘tent city’ so the following year and every year after– we’ve had tents.” she said.
From there, they moved to Midway Plaisance a property of the University of Chicago where for the first time they realized this was much more than just a good ole’ family picnic with a grill and a booming sound system. The aftermath of trash and clean up resulting from over 6,000 attendees forced the group to moved to Jackson Park. For the past four years, the picnic has attracted over 30,000 people, which also bared the reality of high permit fees from the Chicago Park District and incurring overall production costs. They were in the major leagues now. They could no longer provide free admission in order to continue the event.
In 2012, another highly regarded DJ was invited to be a part of family of Chosen Few DJs—Mike Dunn. Dunn, like Hunter he had a long repertoire of music to his catalog and the versatile over the years of building both a house and hip hop following. He fell right into the laid back pace of the group’s mission of keeping easy and smooth.
“We’ve always been pretty cool with each other. I’ve known Wayne and Terry over the years so we’ve worked together. It’s important putting the right people that gel good with one another. That’s what a lot people don’t understand about the Chosen Few – it’s a brotherhood. I’ve been in the Chosen Few for 3 years now and I’ve never see any of them go hard on a member,” said Dunn.
Throughout the years, the group has experienced life changes some managing marriage, parenting, working in corporate America, securing Grammy nominations and building world renowned recognition through their living legacies. This year they celebrate their 25th Anniversary in Chicago’s historic Jackson Park showcasing musical entertainment from Stephanie Mills, Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King, Masters At Work, Derrick Carter, Stan Zeff and Cory Daye will grace the stage with live performances.
Chosen Few DJs founder, Wayne Williams explains. “It’s going to be amazing! We’re very proud – we’re proud of the people who come to the picnic because that’s what drives us. The people that come in from outside of Chicago, continues to comment just how friendly Chicagoans are. That’s really inspiring.”
What will become the Chosen Few DJs legacy? Williams reflects, “We’re brothers so we’re all about helping each other and getting the most out of our creativity. I’m very happy with where we’re at right now.”