Out DJ Manny Lehman headlines this weekend’s Big Long and Proud dance party in Arlington

MannySCOTT HUFFMAN  | Contributing Writer
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Don’t let Manny Lehman’s cool exterior fool you. This humble DJ, producer and remixer — or, as he puts it simply, “a Puerto Rican male from New York” — regularly headlines circuit events and club engagements both stateside and abroad. On Saturday, Lehman brings what he proudly calls his “divas and drums” sound to the Big Long & Proud Party in Arlington.   Lehman’s passion for music began as a teenager when, at NYC’s legendary Paradise Garage nightclub, he first experienced renowned DJ Larry Levan seamlessly mixing records. “I saw this thing happening between the DJ and these people that was just, like, unbelievable,” Lehman says. “One person [was] making so many people have a good time just by playing records together. I said, ‘That’s crazy!

That’s amazing!’”   Eager to try for himself, Lehman soon purchased his own turntables and mixer and began emulating the sound that he was hearing. “It kind of was a hobby — a creative outlet,” he recalls. “I just taught myself.”

Lehman also found work at Vinylmania, a prominent New York City record store, which, in turn, led to his first paying gig at a bar in NYC’s Chelsea gayborhood. “That’s when the bug bit me,” Lehman says. “It’s been a slow build ever since. Before I knew it, because of my connections at the record store, I was playing on the radio live in New York on the hot stations. Then it snowballed.”

Screen shot 2014-06-19 at 10.50.19 AMContacts he developed while working at Vinylmania led to a job with A&M Records. “Back then, in the ’80s, a large source of finding domestic dance records and crossover records was through imports,” Lehman says. “On Wednesdays and Thursdays, when the imports would come in, people from Atlantic and Warner Brothers, the record labels, would ask [about] the hot new records.” Lehman’s reputation for selecting winning tracks made him a shoo-in within the corporate ranks. During his tenure at A&M, Lehman worked with several established recording artists like Sting and Janet Jackson ( “sweet, amazing down-to-earth homegirl,” he says). He also discovered and produced new talent, including vocalist CeCe Peniston who scored a major hit in the early 1990s with her self-penned single “Finally.” However, Lehman never completely abandoned his love for spinning record. As winds of change began sweeping through the music industry, he opted to return full-time to the DJ booth.

“While I was at the record company, I always deejayed on the side to stay on the pulse,” Lehman says. “Then mergers started happening with the record companies, so I began to focus more on deejaying, and, all of a sudden, I had all these gigs.” Alongside hard-earned successes, Lehman has endured his share of heartbreaking disappointment, including the unauthorized leak of a remix of Madonna’s “What It Feels Like for a Girl,” the first remix that garnered him any attention, he says. It showed up on the controversial free music-sharing site Napster in the early days of digital music, and the label went ballistic, shelving his work.

Proudly calling himself a “boys’ DJ,” Lehman gives full credit for his success to the gay community. But he’s an equal opportunity musicmaker.

“If straight people want to jump on board and come hear some good music, then bring it,” he says.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 20, 2014.