Ron Hardy and Robert Williams

(Note: This is from the Editor’s Letter in the new issue of 5 Mag.)

One of the most memorable passages of one of the most memorable interviews we’ve ever printed in 5 Mag was with a former staffer at The Warehouse, acknowledged by almost everyone now as the birthplace of this music and thus one of the most important cultural sites of the 20th century.

We were talking about Robert Williams, the founder of The Warehouse (and later the Muzik Box), and the person who brought Frankie Knuckles to Chicago from New York City to play there.

“What always impressed me the most about Robert,” this person remembered, “was how he dealt with the police.”

I thought about that a lot at the time, and I’ve thought about it a lot in these last few weeks, since the murder of George Floyd and the massive Black Lives Matters protests which are coinciding exactly with Pride Month. There’s been a lot written about the early days of house music history in the last few years, but it often feels… simplified. Sometimes the people feel like unattainable icons, like DJs first and people last. Sometimes the circumstances can be a bit too focused on the music and not all the shit people had to go through just to get to it — to get into that room with the Richard Long sound system.

For some reason, this story did bring it home to me, in visceral, hands-on detail — that a good promoter also has to “deal” on the spot with the police. You’re young, Black and throwing a party in Chicago in the 1970s attended mostly a young, Black and gay clientele. You better believe that is part of the job.

Awhile later we had the chance to ask Robert about this particular skill. He played it cool, like he always does. The police were there to “harass a little,” he acknowledged.

“Sometimes they’d come four or five times in a night and I’d have to stop them. I got tired of that. I had to say, ‘Okay, fellas… are you on lunch? Because you know there’s a cafeteria in front of the building where you can go get yourself a sandwich instead of coming here.’

“They’d say that they were just doing their job and checking things out.

“‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Then I’ll just have to talk to the district commander about this.'”

And this right there is just one more reason why Robert Williams is and will always be a hero to us all.


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