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Arts & Entertainment

At the Inaugural Dallas Entertainment Awards, a Room for All Scenes

The ceremony at the Latino Cultural Center gathered musicians, artists, and other creators who celebrated the work being produced in Dallas.
By Desiree Gutierrez |
Performer Liz Mikel, center, accepts the Lifetime Achievement award at the Dallas Entertainment Awards on January 31.

On the final day of January, each of the 300 seats inside Deep Ellum’s Latino Cultural Center were occupied by musicians, songwriters, artists, designers, podcasters, and the fans who fill the clubs and the gallery spaces. They wore their Starck Club-best, harkening back to the legendary New Wave club between downtown and the West End, and watched as the city’s creatives celebrated one another.

This was what Dezman “Dezi 5” Lehman had been working toward since he moved back to Dallas from New York City, even if he didn’t exactly know that it would become the inaugural Dallas Entertainment Awards.

“From 2020, all the way up to this year, I could feel a void missing in Dallas,” the singer says. “There was something missing, as far as the music side, as far as camaraderie.” 

Lehman spent the better part of the last decade traveling between Dallas and New York. The R&B soul singer’s fondest Dallas memories include nights he shared stages with rock bands and country acts who played to packed rooms. The Dallas Observer had long had its own awards show, which honored winners chosen by both editors and readers and featured bands playing in bars throughout the city. That ended during the pandemic, like so many things.

The collaborative scene that Lehman had grown to adore had halted, or at least slowed. There seemed to be fewer events that attracted fans of different scenes. He says he knew it was time to get everyone under one roof again. Lehman partnered with Deep Ellum Community Association, the Deep Ellum Foundation, and the Latino Cultural Center to unite to celebrate Dallas’ entertainment contributions and achievements.

“Everyone’s off in their own world and their own circle doing their own thing, and to not have an event like this that we have had in different iterations over the years, such as the Dallas Observer Music Awards, which is gone, there’s this void of a unifying event to bring people together,” says Breonny Lee, the president of the Deep Ellum Community Association. Last week’s awards show “was successful in that right. It was just amazing.”

Deep Ellum is the mecca of Dallas’ music scene, but it ebbs and flows. Since the pandemic, the cultural center has been in an ebb, transforming into a new Deep Ellum with daytime-centered businesses that has concentrated musicians into genre-centered pockets with little opportunity for cross-pollination. 

“Genres are already a thing that separates the music, but we all answer to five lines and four spaces,” Lehman says.

Once greenlit, Lehman went straight to work for the DEA. Lehman studied awards shows, everything from the 1986 Grammys to the BET Awards. But when it came to the program, his inspiration stemmed straight from Dallas. 

“Everything that I’m doing is a formula that I learned from Moody [Fuqua],” Lehman says. 

Fuqua is credited with helping pull the Dallas music scene together in the mid-2010s through a booking philosophy that rarely paired two similar acts on the same night. Lehman says the awards were his attempt to expand and continue that strategy.

The DEA program included a pre-show hosted by Veronica Young and hand-picked live performances by Quentin Moore, L25, Furlow, Stan Fran Cisco, and sounds by DJ Mark Ridlen. DJ Natural Hiiigh and The Love Session Orchestra curated the vibes for “La Cérémonie,” which was opened with a performance by Lehman. Remy Reilly, F.I.T., Delilah DuBois, Lamar Adot Thomas, The Dirty Shirts, and Reuben Lael and Mandie performed throughout the ceremony. Ishi closed out the night. 

The DEA recognized Dallas creatives by presenting more than 80 awards. Cure for Paranoia, The Institute, and Pat Ron took home a trophy for song of the year for “From Texas.” RC & The Gritz won album of the year for “Live in Paris.” DJ Sober won three awards for best house DJ, best overall DJ, and best graphics/flyer designer.

“Dallas really needed something like this,” DEA presenter Kate Siamro said on Instagram. “Award ceremonies can be funky, but they are time capsules of what deserves recognition.” 

Dezi 5, photographed in New York City. Fela Raymond

DEA is a community-driven awards ceremony. Nominations open in November and voting follows via a Google Form on its website. Winners were nominated for contributions and achievements through the community, not their industry connections. 

“Generally I’m not keen on awards, but the part about this that does feel good is y’all voted and supported me even though I didn’t ask you to,” DEA best party producer winner Blake Ward said on Instagram

The process of curating DEA showed light on the good and bad of Dallas’ music scene. In researching how to pull off his idea, Lehman was confronted with the scene’s dire needs.

“This is more than just a situation to give people awards,” Lehman says. “When I started the awards, that’s what it was about, but then I realized we do need an alliance. I am working hard to create an entertainment alliance for Dallas.” 

He dreams of creating an “entertainment alliance” in Deep Ellum that would help steer artists toward mental health resources such as therapy. Soon, DEA plans to roll out quarterly workshops on booking, production, and other behind-the-scenes work to propel the quality of Dallas’ music scene.

“Art is subjective, but quality is facts,” he says. “I’m not going to ever judge anyone’s art, but what we do are going to judge is the quality, the sound, the package. That’s very important because that represents us as a city and it also represents the DEA.”

As for the awards, Lehman says he isn’t planning on this being a one-off.

“I believe this is something that’s going to happen probably long after me and long after we’re gonna be here,” he says. “It is for the better good of this art-and-culture community. It is not about egos. It’s not about who you are. It’s about what you do.”


Desiree Gutierrez

Desiree Gutierrez

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