yvonne turner
Yvonne Turner back in the day. Graphic by Drew Litowitz.

Nineteen eighty-four is often remembered as one of pop’s most seismic years, thanks in large part to Prince and Madonna. But it was also the year that gave us house music. Jesse Saunders’ “On and On” is widely considered to be the first house record to come out of the clubs in Chicago. Around the same time in New York, though, Colonel Abrams’ debut single, “Music Is the Answer,” signified a shift beyond disco and boogie toward that stripped-down, unnamed sound. The instrumental dub version on the B-side in particular got play at the Loft and the Paradise Garage in New York, by Ron Hardyand Farley “Jackmaster” Funk in Chicago, and by Jeff Mills in Detroit, the chorus becoming an anthem. The mix was credited to Evan Turner, but it would turn out to be his only production credit.

Or was it?

Evan Turner was actually Yvonne Turner, who had a prolific, if abridged, career as a producer, mixer, and remixer. Being erroneously credited was just the beginning: On subsequent pressings of “Music Is the Answer,” her name was left off altogether. These kinds of mistakes and misprints make piecing together Turner’s discography especially tricky. She was often relegated to the small print on a record, bumped to associate or co-producer status, marked as mixer instead of remixer. In dance music, it’s assumed that the singer is secondary to the producer in the creative process, but the inverse is true for Turner. Many male vocalists she worked with—be it Abrams, Willie Colón, or Arnold Jarvis—got credit for the music.

Viewed on the whole, Turner’s body of remix and production work is formidable. It had a lasting influence not only on the early days of house music—as heard in the producers that immediately came after her, like Masters at Work, Mood II Swing, and Kerri Chandler—but also in the genre’s offshoots, including garage music and Italian dream house. After decades of silence, Turner is now looking to set the record straight about her place in dance-music history. “If I had been a man, it wouldn’t have happened in that way, not being called for work anymore,” she tells me. “Being a girl, that’s the way it goes. I had to kick the door back down.”

The youngest of three, Turner was born in 1953 in Harlem but soon moved to the South Bronx Trinity Projects and then later to Hollis, Queens. She says her most vivid childhood memories were of “the Latin percussionists playing in the street… those warm summer days when the neighborhood would come alive with music.” Turner sang in school and taught herself some guitar. As a teenager, she found herself in charge of the music for her mother and stepfather’s summertime parties. By the late ’70s, she began DJing at picnics and on boat rides across the city, even trekking out to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to play at a nightclub called Ozone Layer. A Jamaican promoter bequeathed her with the nickname “Night Nurse,” an homage to the Gregory Isaacs hit.

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