Since the late 80s, Kym Mazelle ’86 has pioneered the house music scene. “I went from graduating Columbia to selling out arenas,” she remembers.
Singer and songwriter Kym Mazelle ’86 is known as the First Lady of House Music. She’s been involved in the scene since the very beginning, when DJs first played experimental cassettes at black clubs on Chicago’s North Side. In 2018, she’ll celebrate the 30-year anniversary of her first single, “Taste My Love,” which catapulted her to fame in the United Kingdom almost immediately following her Columbia College Chicago graduation. “I went from graduating Columbia to selling out arenas,” she remembers.
In December 2017, Mazelle returned to Columbia to share her expertise with music students. She took the time to talk with Columbia Connection about her house music history and ties to her alma mater.
How did you get involved with House Music?
I got involved with house music before it was house music. Through my internships at Columbia, I stumbled upon one of these clubs that was doing experimental music. Some was so awful. It had an energy to it, though, and people were just dancing.
That started my house music journey. From studying Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management at Columbia, I was like, “I’m going to own all of my stuff.” So I found some partners and we started a small label. One record came out on it—mine. We pressed 2000 copies. The DJs from the UK got ahold of it, and they took it back to England, and they were playing it like crazy. I ended up eventually signing a five-album deal for a million dollars to EMI records.
How has your time at Columbia affected your career?
I figured out how to broker deals from studying Arts and Entertainment Media Management. I studied those contracts—I just took it very seriously.
I was so fresh off my learning from Columbia that doing my own label and album and music was almost like doing my final project for school. It was like doing your dissertation, but in real life. I had literally just graduated. It just all spun off because that fresh energy was still there. I had connected to so many people and made so many relationships.
What moment stands out from your career?
Selling out Wembley eight nights in a row [as the opener for Alexander O’Neal]. Straight off the bat—off my first record deal in 1989. That was a career highlight. That felt amazing because I brought all my friends from Chicago to be in my band with me.
What brought you back to Columbia today?
Alumni should be connected to Columbia. I was able to do a little master class session with some students who are in the music industry who may have not thought about their careers: the practical side of knowing how to read contracts, the entrepreneurial side of [running] your own small business, how you can work comfortably in this industry for years to come.
You recently won the Legends Award and received the key to the city for your hometown: Gary, Indiana. What’s next for you?
Gary, Indiana! Key to the city! I’m really overwhelmed because that’s my hometown. They’ll have my picture next to Michael Jackson.
I’m really into teaching the next generation and empowering young people. [In Gary,] I want to empower a lot of those kids through arts, because I think the first things that are cut in a lot of the school programs are sports and arts. Kids need those things.