Washington, D.C., has a number of musical icons that have represented the city in its illustrious history: Marvin Gaye, Duke Ellington, Billy Stewart, Roberta Flack and Chuck Brown, to name a few.
DJ Kool is a name that should be, if not already, recognized as such. An ambassador for our city worldwide, he has represented two music genres — hip-hop and our own homegrown go-go — everywhere he has performed. With platinum and gold records to boot, DJ Kool has been a beacon to the city that has been sullied by gridlocked politics.
On March 23, the legendary performer, born John W. Bowman, celebrated his 60th birthday at Bliss Nightclub in Northeast with family, friends and business associates that recognized his talent and what he’s done not only for the music industry but what he has done for them personally.
Kool, who got his name on the basketball court, graduated from Eastern High School in 1976 and got his first gig with Ashton Reeves’ mobile DJ company Sound Service the following year. But he got his interest to play from watching another D.C. icon in his own regard, Arthur “Maniac” McCloud, at The Room on New York Avenue in Northwest.
It was Maniac that groomed and harness Kool’s skills.
“He already had it in him — I just helped him bring out of himself and he did the rest,” said Maniac, who would play at The Room six days a week with Kool by his side, learning how to seamlessly blend two different records to sound like one song.
Kool would then go downtown to Douglas Records to get those same records he saw Maniac working with and practice at home until had it down.
“Then once I got it sounding as close to Maniac as possible, I would add my little salt and pepper to it, to give it my own flavor,” he said.
He got his first club gig at the Paragon 2 after being referred by Keith Jefferson. But it wasn’t until Maniac left The Room in 1982 and suggested Kool as a replacement the legend really began to grow.
“He was the only one that [could] handle that crowd,” Maniac recalled.
Kool did just that until The Room finally closed in 1986.
It was in 1990 that Kool dropped the classic album “Music Ain’t Loud Enuff,” which spawned several hits: “I Can Make You Dance,” “Reggae Dance,” “What the Hell You Come In Here For” and the title track. The album put him and D.C. on the national radar for the first time for something other than go-go music.
But it was his 1996 megahit “Let Me Clear My Throat” that made him an international superstar. Kool was able to tour three straight years off that single and still is getting calls to perform it to this day.
Thanks to Butchie Farrell and Dora Hunter, who put together his 60th birthday celebration, Kool got the love and recognition that was deserved.
What has become the norm instead of the exception, local promoters tend not to use our own homegrown talent for big events in the area, relying instead on DJs from outside of the area or younger DJ without even half the resume of Kool’s.
But on this night, his peers along with industry giants were there to show him that he was appreciated.
The party was hosted by Micheline Bowman, and featured presenters Bo Sampson, owner of Bodacious One Entertainment, Foreigner “Eardrum” Suite of Tables of Distinction Record Pool, Tom Goldfogle of Full Circle Entertainment, Becky Marcus of Liaison Records and comedian Kevin Anthony. Even Mayor Muriel Bowser sent D.C. Secretary Lauren Vaughn to thank Kool for his service and representation of the city.
But it was one special moment that stood out from all of the others, as Maniac McCloud read Kool a poem he had written to say how proud he is of him and that Kool had taken the torch and become even better than himself — a monumental statement considering that Maniac was widely regarded as the city’s premier DJ of the ’70s and ’80s.
Afterwards Kool was presented a cake with all of his colleagues surrounding him, including the great James Funk, who seemingly came out of nowhere as he’s apt to doing, being the showman that he is.
The moment capped the night, but not Kool’s career. He says he has a lot more left, and as the official DJ for the the Washington Fusion, the newly formed global mixed-gender basketball team, he’s still breaking boundaries and setting the bar higher for his contemporaries.
Let’s all take a moment and “clear our throats” for a true D.C. icon, the legendary DJ Kool!
Washington Informer contributing writer Nico “The GoGo-Ologist” Hobson is co-host of “The GoWin Radio Show,” which broadcasts live from The Shops at Iverson 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. EST Tuesdays and Thursdays on GoGoRadio LIVE and WINDCRadio.