Known affectionately as “Disco” Toni, Toni Shelton is a model, media personality, and all around renaissance woman.
A native of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Shelton began her career as a model in her teens and was very active in the city’s burgeoning House Music scene. She parlayed her time spent in both worlds to learn all about event planning and promotion, which lead her to start her company, Another Toni Shelton Production. In addition to the numerous projects she undertakes with ATSP, Shelton is also a talent manager and has served as go to commentator for the E! Network.
N’Digo recently sat down with Shelton to discuss her career path, her upcoming events, and her new obsession with the trendsetting tiny house she recently had built.
When you were a child what did you dream of being as an adult?
I dreamed of being a movie star aka Mrs. Bruce Lee and even went so far as to “change my name” to Tona Lee Ya.
How did you get your start in entertainment?
I started modeling as a teen after being rejected from a few agencies. I wasn’t the skinny tall girl they preferred. I had a little meat on my bones. Then I won a modeling contest in Essence magazine. Before I knew it, I was being picked up by a limo from my home in Hyde Park, flying to New York for a week, having dinner with Gregory Hines and his wife, being sent on a cruise, put up in a 5 Star hotel and showered with gifts and money. I even ran into Robert De Niro at a restaurant while in New York. He literally stared at me all night. But all of that came from just sending my photo in for a contest.
Tell us about your upcoming “The Original Queens of House” event at Daley Plaza?
I feel the women that were there don’t get enough credit for being a part of this thing called “House Music”. The men didn’t do it alone. We’ve always been there. This is my way of saying we do matter. We were there and among the originals as well.
And also your upcoming 8th annual white party?
As you know, I’ve been promoting parties for over 30 years. Safe to say that I can put together a pretty good shindig *wink* I wanted to give a classy, clean, fun House party and my favorite color is white…so I came up with All White Party concept. It’s been going on strong for 8 years now. This year will be the best yet. We have a great group of DJ’s in Da Minista, John Goings, Kenny Ray, oDDGuy aNgeL, Rob Taylor, and Tony Sundance. We’ll also being collecting care packages for the needy and giving a portion of the night’s proceeds to charity.
You’ve recently had a custom made tiny house built. Tell us about it and some of your plans for it in the future?
My idea was to have a home with everything needed in it to live in since all my kids are grown now and on their own. I’ve paid a mortgage FOREVER. I thought I (or “we” when the kids come visit) could just drive up to a beach and just make it HOME. My family and I can take vacations in it and just take it to the vacation. I also wanted to go around to different cities helping others by donating water and care packages to people I came across down on hard times. I love helping others and putting a smile on their faces. Also, House Music is my life so I want to also promote house music…meet others on the road who also LOVE HOUSE MUSIC, take photos and build a photo library of all the cities. What can I say? I’m a dreamer so I see lots of possibilities for it.
What’s your favorite house track?
Oh that’s a no brainer for me. Loleatta Holloway’s “Hit N Run”.
What is it about house music that makes it so endearing to so many?
For me it’s an escape. You literally get lost in the music and nothing else matters at the moment. As a teen growing up with parents, it took me away from a lot of loneliness and pain.
How do you juggle all of your responsibilities with being a mother and having a life of your own?
I really just try to find a balance and maintain. Don’t get me wrong….I have my share of breakdowns but I don’t stay there, Sometimes I do wanna cry. I tend to write everything down and talk to a few trusted good friends when needed. I just keep pushing even when it’s hard to do so.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I don’t own make up, furs, jewelry, or designer duds. I’m a nature girl. I love nature, big trucks, and the sun, I talk and help everyone where I live. I catch the bus everywhere. I’m really a loner. I’m happy not having it all. Just give me the essentials. That’s all I need.
Best advice or words of wisdom to those aspiring to make a mark in entertainment business?
This business will eat you alive if you don’t watch yourself. Stay focused, trust carefully, and have a good friend to confide in. When you get knocked down it’s okay to cry for a little bit but you have to get it all out and then get right back to it.
Favorite quote or affirmation?
Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we should dance”
What’s next for Toni Shelton?
I plan to focus on living in peace in nature soon. I am going to roll that tiny house up on a mountain somewhere near water and set up shop. But I also want to take the house around and give out water and other necessities to those in need. I have so many plans I’d like to see happen with it. I’d also like to maybe go somewhere and rehab a building, everything inside white and clean. The building could be used as sort of a center for the homeless where they could shower, get haircuts, wash their clothes, get fed and have uplifting seminars. Lastly, I plan to keep DANCING DANCING DANCING!
Catch Toni Shelton at her “Original Queens of House” event on Monday June 26th from 12pm-2pm at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago or at her 8th Annual All-White Party on Friday June 30th 8pm-2am at Jak’s Tap located at 901 W. Jackson in the West Loop. To learn more about her tiny house, please visit tinyhousetalk.com and search ‘Toni Shelton’.