A band called Death speaks on overcoming racial barriers in rock music

Max Haase, Contributing Writer

Members of an all-black rock band consisting of brothers David, Dennis, and Bobby Hackney described their own personal experiences with erasure Feb. 28 in the Gallery Theatre of the Elaine Langone Center. Co-sponsored with the University’s department of music and the Griot Institute, this event continued the Griot Institute for Africana Studies’ lecture and performance series centered on the topic of erasure. Erasure is the disappearance of black identities, lives, history, freedoms, accomplishments and more. The institute has invited scholars and artists such as the Hackney brothers to reveal the detrimental, oppressive impact of this phenomenon.

Referring to themselves as “Death” in Detroit in 1975 during the Motown era, the brothers were ridiculed, criticized and rejected by the public for playing rock music that, at the time, strayed from the norm of black soul music. After getting turned down by every major label in the early 70s and receiving rejection from self-released recordings, their music is finally receiving positive worldwide recognition more than 35 years later. Music historians are claiming that the band’s music existed five years before the sound of punk music. Bobby and Dennis survive their brother and band member David, continuing to record, produce, perform, and tour the world, showcasing their talents and overcoming past racial barriers within the music industry.

In 2014, a documentary titled “A Band Called Death” was released telling their story of hardship, perseverance, and eventual success. Bobby discussed the public resistance and pushback that Death received during the years they were trying to make it in the music industry.

“There was a lot of backlash because they didn’t understand the music. We wanted to play the music our way. We didn’t care about what people said or how the people of Detroit viewed us. There were times when white DJ’s would tell us that they’d never heard of a black rock band or artist other than Hendrix, but interestingly our name was our biggest hurdle, race came second,” Bobby said. 

“Death as a project feels almost entirely in eulogy of Dave Hackney, and it speaks beautifully and honorably to the love and care his brothers continue to have for him,” English-literary studies and Spanish double major Will Simonson ’18 said.

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