Two Turntables and a Gender Gap

For close to two years De Virgin Mary appeared at clubs doing guest spots between other DJs' sets, but she couldn't secure a steady gig. Certainly being a woman didn't add to her cachet. "People can be narrow-minded," she says. "One time I gave a promoter my tape and he didn't think it was mine. He didn't believe it! He had me come into the club and play live. I knew if I had been a guy he wouldn't have asked that."

Trying to get work as a woman was tough enough; trying to get paid by male promoters was almost too much. "I used to get jerked left and right," she declares. "A few years ago I was working for a promoter who is very well-known now. He didn't have the money to pay me at the beginning of the night, so I asked him for his house keys and a piece of ID as collateral. He gave me his passport. When my gig was over he asked for his keys back and I gave them to him, and he only gave me half the money. I held on to the passport, though. Six months later he called me asking for it back. That's when he paid me the rest of the money!"

Changing her gender was obviously was out of the question. But in 1993 Cabrera did change something: her name. Even though she was encouraged by others to adopt an androgynous personality and call herself Tommy or Tony, she and a friend came up with Snowhite. "It means woman [to me] and represents what I stand for," she says. "Plus, it sticks in people's brains." One person who took notice was funk musician Raw B. Jae. He heard her and encouraged her to spin with him during his regular gigs at the now-defunct clubs Washington Square and Stephen Talkhouse. "I owe him a lot," she notes. "He didn't care whether I was a woman or not. He liked my style."

Later that year, after Raw B. Jae's frenetic live performance schedule had slowed down, her style landed her a nightclub residency. A fellow DJ helped her obtain a position at (the also defunct) Rose's Bar & Music Lounge, where for a year and a half she would spin acid jazz, reggae, hip-hop, and R&B on a night called Phat Tuesday. At the same time, she started working at Lua with DJ Sugar and Mark Leventhal, one of Miami's most successful DJs, who ironically goes by the nickname Sista.

Allying herself with male turntablists may have helped, but no matter how famous they were, their recommendations didn't always a guarantee a job. The celebrated spinmeister David Padilla put in a good word for her with local promoters, but to no avail. "I would call and ask for the position and they'd tell me the position was taken when I knew it wasn't," she says. "It was because I was a woman."

Nevertheless, Cabrera kept her spirits up, refusing to compromise by using her feminine wiles. "A guy who used to play for Raw B. Jae once said to get jobs I should dress sexy -- go in showing some skin, wear high heels, put my hair up, wear a real short skirt," she recollects. "I didn't want to do that. C'mon, I wear T-shirts and jeans. When you're spinning, you want to be comfortable. The last thing you want is to attract anyone or to be distracting."

Her tenacity eventually paid off. DJ stints at Lucy's, Glam Slam, Virtua Cafe, Jesse's, Groove Jet, KGB, and radio shows on pirate station Beach Radio (96.9 FM) followed, as did jobs out of state. For the last six months she has been making the Marlin a hotspot on Tuesday evening, competing somewhat with her old friend Leventhal's Home Cookin' night at Groove Jet. She'll begin a biweekly gig spinning at the Albion Hotel's Fallabella bar this Friday.

Life is good, but Cabrera still thinks something is missing. "I feel I haven't gotten, and still don't get, the respect and appreciation for what I do from the promoters and club owners," she says. "But producing is the next step for me. I want to get my name on as many records as possible. What keeps me going is the love. I can't think of doing anything else. This is my life."

What has become a way of life for Cabrera is also a mainstay for Shannon Henry, who goes by the name DJ Shannon. Tall, solidly built, wearing blue denim overalls and an orange sleeveless top, she has a constant smile on her face. Sitting in her living room in Miami Beach, she enthusiastically relays the tale of how she came to be one of Miami's busiest female DJs.

Like Cabrera, Henry, now in her early thirties, began collecting 45s as she grew up, in Oakland, California. She bought her first album, Parliament Live -- P-Funk Earth Funk Tour, at the age of eight and nurtured her affinity for soul, hip-hop, and funk at elementary, middle, and senior high school. She was one of the few whites in a predominantly black school district. During high school she began to work as a vocalist for speed-metal bands. "Basically it was screaming as opposed to singing -- threatening the audience," she chuckles. "But I realized while I was singing that I was never really happy with my vocals. I thought I was a really good performer, but the way I sounded was not like people who gave me chills when I listened. I didn't have that type of voice."

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