Friends and fans remember Detroit DJ Charles English, dead at 68

Dec 8, 2021 at 1:33 pm
click to enlarge DJ Charles English. - Misanthropia Narcissus
Misanthropia Narcissus
DJ Charles English.

Charles English — an influential Detroit DJ with an encyclopedic, genre-spanning taste in music, known to spin at venues like Todd's, the Shelter, and Leland City Club from the 1980s through the present — has died, according to friends and fans. He was 68.

According to his family, he died after suffering a widowmaker heart attack.

"The Detroit alternative scene took a massive hit today," Leland City Club posted on Facebook. "RIP to the legendary Dj Charles English."

English first gained notoriety after co-founding a popular dance night at the former Todd's, known for playing British New Wave, synth-pop, and punk.

"Way back in the late 80s I found my underage self at Todd's and in the presence of a DJ that would help shape my obsession with music, Charles English," DJ Jen Jeffery wrote on Facebook. "For years I fangirled over everything he played, whether at Todd's, the State Theatre, The Shelter or later, City Club. He was an influence, a mentor and later, my friend."

Jeffrey noted that when City Club reopened from the pandemic shutdown earlier this year, the first song English played at the goth nightclub was by Neil Diamond.

"He started the night by playing Neil Diamond because we shared a love of Neil," she wrote. "Neil Diamond at City Club — only Charles, lol."

She added, "I just can't believe I'll never see him next to me in the booth at City Club again. Detroit has lost a true legend, talent and wonderful person. Rest in peace my friend."

Eddie Baranek of the rock band the Sights wrote on Facebook of growing up next door to English's family.

"Later, when I started playing music in Detroit, reading the Metro Times, I would learn the guy next door was responsible for many great nights in the '80s, some that live on today," he wrote.

"Over the years I'd stop by my parents and if Charles was out working on his lawn, that meant at least a 10-15 minute chat: politics (Macomb County Trumpers were one of our favorite punching bags), Detroit bars, the difference between the break in the single vs. lp version of Seger's '2+ 2 = ?'," Baranek continued. "The way his brain worked, if a word came up in conversation, it would spark his encyclopedic brain to immediately begin singing whatever song came in his head... that would reference the topic we were discussing. I imagine that's part of why he was such a good dj. He could tie music to any moment in life, and his mind was a music filing cabinet. He could talk '50s doo-wop, '60s psych, '70s you get the picture (that's when he'd say, 'The Pretty Things, yeeeeeah!')."

He added, "What a character, and a true Detroit original. See ya around, old neighbor. Maybe, if I get lucky, I'll be able to move next door to you when we meet again. Thanks for showing me it's cool as hell to just be myself. RIP Charles English."

"That man introduced me to so much seminal music — I can’t hear Karen Finley, Vicious Pink, Skinny Puppy (Smothered Hope!), Bauhaus, Section 25 or the Liquid Sky soundtrack without picturing Charles on the decks," writer Scott Sterling wrote on Facebook. "And always so kind when I came running up to the booth screaming for yet another track ID."

"There are bands that owe their entire careers to visionary DJs like Dianna, Halloran, and Charles English," writer and actor James Graham, aka Jimmy Doom, wrote on Facebook. "There are a few generations of people whose sanity was saved because they could hang out with other freaks and dance. We didn't always have an internet. We had DJs. Thanks for everything Charles. Detroit loves you."

Photographer Misanthropia Narcissus tells Metro Times that he hopes to plan an event at City Club to commemorate English's life.

"Charles was one of the greatest people I know," he says. "We'll be doing something for him soon at City Club, just trying to figure out the best thing to represent him. It’s crazy that he was part of the start here."

English's family created a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral costs.

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