By Michael Kohn
British superstar George Michael sings “I gotta have faith.” If the crowds who gather at her gigs are any indication, so do the fans of Justine Faith, owner of NightStar DJ and Karaoke. What she started on a whim has blossomed into a successful entertainment company for this resident of Pleasantville.
Justine didn’t set out on becoming a queen of karaoke. After studying Animal Science at Cornell, she hoped to become a veterinarian. William Congreve said: “music hath charms to soothe the savage beast…,” but taking care of animals was not to be. A love of singing, including a three-year stint with the All-City Chorus in Manhattan during high school, eventually brought her to a different career path.
Fifteen years ago, when just a regular karaoke singer, a DJ asked her if she wanted to learn the ropes. So, she learned how to dj, what to say to the crowd and began a business of her own, starting with one show a week. When another bar asked her to do a karaoke show on the same night, she trained her own DJ, and thus, a karaoke empire was born. Today, between Justine and her stable of DJ’s, NightStar DJ and Karaoke now hosts 21 shows each week, not including weddings and parties.
Along with regular gigs in Westchester, Connecticut and the Bronx (her one night “off” is Monday), Justine also hosts a regular Thursday night show at the world-famous Sylvia’s in Harlem. “The singers [there] will blow your mind,” she says.
When I interviewed Justine over the phone, I could hear in her voice the pride she took in her work, including the fact that she was the first African-American woman to own a karaoke company. She talked about how important the singers are to her and pointed out that other DJs sometimes steal time from the singers by singing too often themselves, in spite of the fact that she is blessed with an amazing voice of her own. (Her mother played piano at Carnegie Hall and taught music and piano, and Justine was an accomplished piano player by age six.)
She stressed the value of encouraging her DJs to talk to everyone at the bar, even non-singers, who just come to enjoy a good show. “Anyone can press buttons; it’s about personalities,” she says. As a karaoke DJ myself up in Albany, I was curious to see Justine in action, and fortunately found a chance to after visiting my daughter in New York City. She was returning to her long-running show at Thataway’s Café in Greenwich after a three month hiatus recovering from surgery, and invited me to see her “live.”
I arrived to find Justine ordering a soda amidst a sea of her loyal fans. On a Sunday night, no less! Justine began the show and I was delighted I made the trip. The atmosphere and the singers were fantastic and everyone was showing karaoke love. I even met a few of the karaoke hosts who work for her. It was clear that they all had Justine’s love for karaoke and her professional philosophy of giving the very best to the patrons. She wants to “make it [the show] memorable so they will come back.” I ended up staying over two hours.
Karaoke’s not all fun and games. In addition to managing all the shows, Justine works hard at booking, preparing contracts, and publicity. “It’s a tough business and I have to work hard to hold onto shows,” she adds. After seeing one, it’s obvious that the effort is worthwhile.
The central theme which emerged during the interview was how important the people are. Justine wants to give them the very best and has been rewarded over the years by meeting many wonderful people. Since she began, at least eight couples married after meeting at karaoke. Justine dj’ed at their weddings too, expressing how honored she felt that she was chosen to entertain.
Locally, you can find Justine and her other hosts at Quaker Hill in Chappaqua, Lucy’s in Pleasantville, Opus in Armonk. For a complete listing of her shows, visit her website at www.nightstardj.com.