Val's halla Records store owner Val Camilletti, 78, died July 24 at the British Home in Brookfield, Illinois of complications from breast cancer. She was a resident of Cicero at the time of her death.
Camilletti was born Nov. 12, 1939 in Chicago and grew up on the West Side. She graduated from Austin High School and soon after started working at Continental Bank. It was during this time that Camilletti realized she was bisexual and came out to a few close friends. Camilletti left the bank and started working at the Chicago offices of Capitol Records in the promotions department in 1962.
Five years later, Camilletti left Capitol Records to manage a chain of stores, NMC Discount Records, in Oak Park, Illinois. She bought the flagship store in 1972 on South Blvd. and renamed it Val's halla Records. The name paid homage to her now-deceased dog Halla, a white German shepherd, and the Norse mythology's warrior heaven. She moved locations about 12 years ago to 239 Harrison St. in Oak Park.
Camilletti held a number of release parties for artists over the years. Among the celebrities who came to her store were Flat Five ( she championed them to everyone who came through the store ), John Prine ( who consulted Camilletti about his new music ), B-52s' frontman Fred Schneider and the late actor and Oak Park native John Mahoney.
A number of years ago, Camilletti wrote a weekly column for the Wednesday Journal, VOYEUR. She was an Animal Care League of Oak Park board member and donor, Sounds of Joy choral group in Oak Park board member and volunteered for Women in Music and Lavender Bouquet. Camilletti donated to many worthy causes including the Lyric Opera, Howard Brown Health, several HIV/AIDS organizations, the Make a Wish Foundation and Live to Sing/Sing to Live chorus ( people impacted by breast cancer ).
Camilletti is survived by her cat, Soot and many chosen family members. She was preceded in death by her Italian immigrant parents Norma Mary and Quinto Camilletti. Camilletti was among the many entries on the Chicago Gay History website and said in the interview that she spoke Italian before English at home.
"Many people may be surprised to learn that up until three weeks ago, every Thursday, for nearly 30 years, Val drove our golf cart at the local forest preserve course or met me at a golf dome in winter," said longtime friend and golf partner Amy Shropshire. "We would analyze each other's swings and solve the world's problems at our post-game lunch. Such is the way great friendships are made, and now my heart is broken by her loss. There will never be another like her."
"She had the gift of gab," said Val's halla Records Store Manager Shayne Blakeley. "Val always wanted things to be synchronized and come full circle around the anniversary of her ownership of the store. When we moved locations she insisted that the last day at the old store had to fall on the store's anniversary. Our present location is a mile away from where she grew up and that is why they moved the store to Harrison Street. That is when the pattern clicked and everything came full circle. When I got the news of her death I called my own mom and told her I lost a parent. She was more than a boss, she was family to me and many others. Val was a font of knowledge and the store was a free mental health clinic because of her. I hope to continue that legacy."
"Val did not just impart us with her musical expertise, she also gave us her kindness, generosity and a warmth that made the world sing," said friend, customer and former Oak Park Village Trustee member Ray Johnson.
"Val taught me about music, queer culture and community even before I realized that I was already part of them," said friend and customer Crispin Torres. "I was so inspired that a woman could own and run a business in the music community and hold down any argument with the bro-iest of audiophiles. It is sad that we still do not see enough women, queer and trans, POC-owned business in this industry. This is a huge loss but I hope that it only inspires folks to keep fighting for space. I know I will. Rest in power."
"We have lost a great friend and woman who has been enabling those of us who cannot get enough music in our collections," said WXRT's Terri Hemmert in a Facebook post. "There are a lot of us music nerds that can talk for hours about our favorite songs, but Val was even more. She was a friend and mentor to countless people. She supported musicians, venues and kids that were crazy enough to want to work at a record store. I was one of those kids. I found her and her marvelous store when I was still in college. We quickly became friends, and the next year after I graduated I moved to Oak Park, because I was determined to work at WGLD, which I did. That year I could not afford to buy Christmas presents for my family so Val hired me to work in the evenings. I was able to give my parents and siblings records for Christmas and they were thrilled.
"We both got cancer around the same time and became our own support group. A lot of people did not even know she was sick. She showed up at the shop every day until last week when things went bad. I am just glad she lived large these last two years. Even last fall, we were meeting every Monday night at the Hideout for the Flat Five's residency. They showed up yesterday to serenade her. She was unresponsive but I know she heard every marvelous note. She loved music but she loved us even more. We were her family. My love goes out to everyone who knew her. Listen to some music. She would want you to."
The store will be holding a 46th anniversary sale and have live music performances Saturday, July 28 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, July 29 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This event will be a celebration of Camiletti's life. Another memorial service is in the planning stages. Details TBA.
See video interview with Camilletti on Tracy Baim's Chicago Gay History Project website here: www.chicagogayhistory.com/biography.html .