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As a teenager, growing up in the Bronx in the ’70s, John “Jellybean” Benitez recalls friends talking about the music in Manhattan discos.
“My friends who were bouncers told me that the DJ where they worked had two turntables and the music never stopped. And then they proceeded to tell me that while one record was ending, the DJ would play the other record on top of it. My immediate reaction was that’s a terrible idea!”
The terrible idea stuck with Benitez, one of the best-known DJs in the business. “I still can’t believe that someone gets paid to play records,” he laughs.
For many, the name Jellybean Benitez is associated with Madonna. The DJ was integral to the rise of the artist atop the chart, having co-produced her first three Top 10 hits, “Holiday,” “Lucky Star,” and “Borderline.” He’s currently in the studio “working with two multi-platinum superstar acts” that he can’t name due to confidentiality agreements.
“I’m trying to make records that are credible dance records, but at the same time lend themselves to radio, as opposed to being a dance record and then you hear a remix of it in the club that’s completely different than the version that’s on the radio. I’m trying to bridge both worlds simultaneously.”
Benitez’s primary focus, however, is on the music of his early days, when he was a marquee DJ at storied clubs like Paradise Garage and Studio 54. “I get to play a lot of disco records in their entirety — and in the original versions that could be anywhere from eight- to 15-minutes-long,” says the executive producer and program director of Sirius XM’s Studio 54 Radio. “There’s no other radio station doing that globally.” Benitez will offer a live version of his Sirius show on Friday at U Street Music Hall, for a party called “A Night at the U Street Disco.” He’ll spin alongside local house music legend Sam “The Man” Burns.
“It really depends on the vibe in the room and the energy that I get and what people respond to,” he says, when asked whether he’ll stray beyond ’70s disco. But the DJ is certain of one thing: he’ll draw a queer crowd.
“Wherever I play, there’s definitely a gay audience. I think that’s probably why my events are so much fun.”
Jellybean Benitez performs Friday, Aug. 18, after 10 p.m. at U Street Music Hall, 1115A U St. NW. Tickets are $10. Call 202-588-1880 or visit ustreetmusichall.com.
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