StoryCorps: Father-Son DJs Started A Brooklyn Block Party During COVID Pandemic To help New Yorkers get through a dark time, Jo and Chad Vill brought a DJ set into the street of their Brooklyn neighborhood. "The next thing you know, we had a street full of people," Jo said.

In Pandemic Isolation, Father And Son DJs Spun Music Into A Community

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On Friday, we hear from StoryCorps. And on this Father's Day weekend, we hear from father and son DJs in Brooklyn. Jo Vill started mixing music in the '70s. His 32-year-old son Chad picked up his father's passion. But it didn't start out that way.

JO VILL: Why did you want to learn to DJ?

CHAD VILL: I didn't.

(LAUGHTER)

C VILL: I used to see you doing it all the time. And the equipment was always around. But it's like, that's my dad's thing. I'm not doing that.

J VILL: But I remember I came into a room one day. And I saw you putting the record on a needle and scratching it. I was like, oh, no.

C VILL: (Laughter).

J VILL: You can't be scratching up my stuff. So I went and got you your own record, which was a ninja turtle record.

C VILL: Yeah.

J VILL: And you scratched that thing to death.

(LAUGHTER)

J VILL: And it turned out that you had a natural talent. It made me proud that you were able to kind of follow in my footsteps.

C VILL: You know, when the pandemic happened, all of the clubs got shut down. In the back of my head I thought, you know, this isn't going to last too long. This will probably be a couple of weeks. And I'll be right back.

J VILL: It was kind of eerie at first because all you heard all night long was an ambulance going by. And so that was, like, a signal that somebody else was sick. Then when we started hearing of all the deaths that were occurring - my cousin passed away - then it got real.

C VILL: No one was really walking around. Everybody was pretty much scared.

J VILL: People felt like they were locked in, isolated, alone, afraid. And so we're DJs. I said, let's put a speaker out in the street. And every day, we would come together and try to choose what was - be the song for the day. And then it stretched out to two songs. Then the neighbors would make suggestions for a song. And we sort of transitioned from one speaker to two speaker, to a total of six speakers. And then, next thing you know, we had a street full of people.

C VILL: Black, white, straight, gay, Asian, Spanish, everyone was there - the melting pot that they say New York is.

J VILL: (Laughter) Where everybody wearing masks and moms running around spraying people with alcohol if she saw them touching each other.

C VILL: We wanted to make other people feel better.

J VILL: And it worked.

C VILL: Yeah. We've had bus drivers drive, stop at the light, open the door, dance a little bit, wave to us, keep going. We've seen the mailman drive by and everybody clap for him. You know, the thing was, like, we've all lived next to each other for years. But...

J VILL: Yeah. We've been on the block since 1989.

C VILL: People would walk by and not say anything. And now people are saying, hey, Chad. Hey, Jo. Like, we know people's names.

J VILL: You can't walk by without speaking to each other. I think we're more of a community than we were before. You reap what you sow. You sow love, you get love back - not always back from the source that you think you're going to get it because I sure didn't think it was going to come this way. But it did. And I'm glad it did.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROKE FOR FREE'S "THE GOLD LINING")

INSKEEP: Jo Vill with his son, Chad, still hosting block parties on their Brooklyn street - St. James Place if you want to drop by. They're called St. James Joy. Their StoryCorps interview is archived, along with many others, at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

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