Nothing is more soul-destroying than Fashion Week, and there’s nothing like being immersed in dance music history to save one’s soul. Luckily, last Monday, the first annual Dance Music Hall of Fame Awards took over Spirit, the former Twilo/Sound Factory space, now a multilevel spiritual fun house.
It was like a post-high-school reunion for the fortysomething crowd, with mini DJ sets from Nicky Siano, Jackie McCloy, and Pete Jones. The night’s best performance: Evelyn “Champagne” King, who didn’t look old enough to have been around in 1977 when her hit “Shame” was released.
My date was my own editor and the original disco critic Vince Aletti, who I knew was a Big Deal before the event, but didn’t realize exactly how big until we got to the venue and were immediately besieged by famous and important people from the disco industry, including Randy Jones (the Cowboy from the Village People) and Tommy Boy’s Tom Silverman, who co-founded the Hall of Fame (along with Daniel Glass, John Parker, and Eddie O’Loughlin). I just about had to bow down before my editor—who was set to present an award to Loft legend David Mancuso—when we heard that none other than Chic‘s Nile Rodgers would be introducing him! Of course, Aletti had to tell his young protégée who most of the people were, since I wasn’t even born when disco began. When I asked, “Vince, who are the Ritchie Family?” he sighed with the air of a father talking to his small child, “Oh, you’re too young.”
All night long, geriatric jokes abounded. Rodgers, who wore shades, explained that he wasn’t wearing sunglasses at night for style reasons (even though he was sporting a dashing red suit), but that the lenses were actually prescription. “I ain’t trying to be cool. I really can’t see,” he quipped. When DJ John Luongo seemed to have trouble getting his set started, his Boston buddy DJ Joey Carvello yelled up to the booth with some helpful advice, “You put the needle on the record!”
In the crowd, Lady Bunny hopped near Danny Tenaglia, who said he hadn’t heard about the first ever awards show honoring dance music until the last minute. “I wish they’d told me, I live for this. I’m over 40.” (Another old-person joke.) His complaint was valid. Many people didn’t even know about the induction ceremony, and the lack of organization showed. It’s a miracle anything ever happens in clubland at all, really. Host KTU DJ Al Bandiero was quite good and took all the false starts and technical difficulties in stride. “Do you get the feeling that we’re flying by the seat of our pants?” he cracked. “Why would we rehearse this?”
Denise Rich had a table right up front, and watched as Frankie Knuckles shared the stage with West End Records founder Mel Cheren to induct the famous Paradise Garage DJ, Larry Levan, who passed away in 1992. Their tribute was the most touching. “His talent was so much bigger than most people can imagine,” said Knuckles. “I’m here today because of that genius.” “Larry’s love for lyrics helped to entertain and educate at the same time,” said Cheren, who then went for another old-person joke: “He gave me a lot of the gray hair I have.”
Cheren encouraged the dance community to work with Robbie Wootton, the enigmatic Irishman who owns Spirit, and who donated the club rent-free. “Please support this man,” said Cheren. “He’s brought this great spirit back to New York nightlife.”
RuPaul inducted Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, the illustrious production team behind “I Feel Love” and countless other disco hits, informing the crowd, “The whole electroclash thing is based on the work they did.” After Moroder—one of the only major stars actually alive and present—accepted his award, saying, “They call it dance music now, but it’ll always be disco to us,” RuPaul introduced a segment honoring “our queen,” Donna Summer, at night’s end. (Her daughter, Amanda Sudano, appeared in her place.) But by then, the spirits at Spirit had taken over the boisterous crowd, which seemed drunk and giddy with the possibilities of the night. Lifetime Achievement inductee Henry Stone, who signed KC and the Sunshine Band, proudly told the crowd, “You turned nothing into something. This is really something.”