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Death Discusses a Rebirth

Death, a trio of Detroit brothers, pioneered the punk rock movement

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means a lot to me, Dennis and David. Because 1968 was a pivotal year for us. Imagine me, I’m only 12 years old. Dennis is 14, David is 16 going on 17. And in April we lost Martin Luther King. Then in May, not even a month later, we lost our dad. And then in August, we lost Bobby Kennedy. So for the nation, those two names was the hope of the nation at that time. For us, not only did we lose the hope of our nation, we lost the hope of our household as well.

So we had to grow up really fast. My mom and dad had lived apart at that time, and I never forget rifling through my dad’s record collection and I saw Dance to the Music. We just loved it, and never knew that this group would become the icon of Woodstock and the whole peace and love movement.

When we saw him on Ed Sullivan, I’ll never forget Sly jumping on top of the organ. We had never seen a group where there was Black and White [bandmates] together, female and male and brothers and sisters. And they became the icons of Woodstock. Death, that’s where we came from and that’s what encouraged us the most to be musicians. Not only losing our dad, but the fact we were not really trying to be a Black band or a White band. We was trying to be like peace and love, positivity.

EBONY: What do you think accounts for the resistance in the Black community to rock music?

BH: We are fortunate in that we grew up in the Black community, and we’ve lived in the most White community in the country, which is Vermont. One of the biggest frustrations Bob Marley had was trying to reach the Black audience when he was alive. They put him on a tour with the Commodores, which was one of his last tours. And you know, the Black community wasn’t ready for Bob Marley. But now if you go into the Black community, you see Bob Marley just as much as you see any other name, and he would be proud to see that.

It’s almost like it parallels what Death went through and what I’m seeing right now. When we see young Black kids come up to us, older Black kids, that’s the most heartfelt thing for me and Dennis. We went through so much resentment in the Black community, we felt that nobody Black would ever think that Death would be [successful].

DH: When we were back at home in Detroit, it was the sisters who used to get on our case the most. ’Cause you got to play something you can dance to, you know what I mean? So they used to get on our case hard and heavy! And now, last night we played this show and some of the sisters in town came out to see us, and that made me so proud. Because you get the sisters, you get the community. And you know that! [laughs] The sisters have come up to us and said “good job.” They were smiling, they were buying stuff to be autographed. I could not believe it. 

Miles Marshall Lewis is the Arts & Culture Editor of EBONY.com. He’s also the Harlem-based author of Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have BruisesThere’s a Riot Goin’ On and Irrésistible. Follow MML on Twitter at @furthermucker, and visit his personal blog, Furthermucker.