Innovative electronic music recording artist, DJ and producer Aaron-Carl died suddenly Sept. 30 following a brief bout with cancer. He was 37.
Born Aaron Carl Ragland on Aug. 19, 1973, the sweet-voiced singer attended public schools in Detroit and Taylor. But long before he graduated from Harry S. Truman High School in Taylor in 1992, his love of music and future career path were obvious. Aaron-Carl’s family, from a young age, called him “Boogie.” Inspired greatly by Prince, Aaron-Carl’s lyrics were often risque and ripe with sexual innuendo.
“Musically, he was real,” said his friend and fellow DJ Pirahna Head. “He would say what it was that he needed to say. If he was feeling horny, you were gonna know that. He was gonna say it in a record.”
Aaron-Carl self-released his first full-length CD in 1996. Titled “Storm,” Aaron-Carl wrote, produced, arranged and performed all nine tracks himself. The CD, with its catchy and campy single “Wash It,” caught the attention of Mike Banks of Submerge Distribution, who signed him to his Soul City label.
Just two years later, Aaron-Carl created his own Wallshaker Records imprint. In 1998, he made the Billboard Top 40 Dance/Club Hits chart with the song “My House.” But as his international acclaim grew – he toured the UK, France, Germany, Sweden and The Netherlands among other countries – he remained overlooked in the states, and in his hometown. He was nominated for three Performers Awards of Detroit and two Detroit Music Awards, but never managed to take an award home.
“A lot of Detroiters didn’t really give him the respect that he was due,” said Pirahna Head. “A lot of the bigger names here, they didn’t put him forth as the revolutionary house artist that he was.”
Aaron-Carl not only embraced his gayness, he celebrated it in his music. His 2002 release, “Uncloseted,” contained the single “Homoerotic.” But if his openness caused him to be overlooked at times by others in the industry, it was, said Pirahna Head, clearly their loss.
“Aaron was a monster on the decks, man. He was one hell of a DJ. The boy was bad. He made some sick tracks, but a lot of people couldn’t really hear him. In my opinion, he was ahead of his time.”
The lack of recognition and commercial success weighed on Aaron-Carl from time to time, and even occasionally caused him to think of leaving the business.
“He would ask me, ‘Should I get a full-time job?'” recalled his partner Mel Winders. “I’d always say, ‘No, this is your dream, this is what you’re good at and this is what you should be doing.'”
And there were triumphs. He produced remixes for artists such as N’Dambi and Kindred the Family Soul, wrote for CeCe Peniston and Michelle Weeks, and headlined the Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2005 and 2008. In 2009, he started WARMTH International, Inc. to bring unity to the house and techno music communities.
“That’s his legacy,” said Winders. “His goal was to unify the electronic masses. It wasn’t about him versus anybody else or any other DJ. It was just about bringing the music together.”
Aaron-Carl was forced to cancel a planned European tour last month when stomach pains detoured him to the hospital. On Sept. 25, Aaron-Carl posted a video message to his website, www.aaroncarl.com, stating that had been diagnosed with cancer two days earlier and pledging to fight the disease. Further tests would reveal that it was Stage 4 Lymphoma.
On Sept. 28, Aaron-Carl posted to his Facebook page that he had, “finished the bone marrow biopsy. Ouch. Now I’m preparing for the lymph node removal. Surgery, here I come.”
Before he could undergo that procedure, Aaron-Carl went into cardiac arrest. He died at 6:50 a.m. Sept. 30, just one week after learning that he had cancer.
“Aaron was a beautiful spirit,” said Pirahna Head. “He was a gentle gay giant. … Even when he knew his adversaries were standing in his face, he would give them a hug. That’s the way he was.”
In addition to Winders, Aaron-Carl is survived by two sons, Stefan Carl and Jevon Justin Ragland. Funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the O.H. Pye Funeral Home in Detroit, located at 17600 Plymouth Road. Donations can be made via the website http://www.warmth313.com.