Ken Collier was black, gay and one of the best DJs of his time. Largely unheralded, Collier bridged the musical gap between the Motown sound and what is now considered house and techno music. From his base within the gay community, Collier pioneered a style of mixing and participated in an underground network of clubs and parties that would eventually expose him to (and influence) generations of future DJs, producers, promoters and entertainers.
Collier was born in 1949 to a family that had arrived in Detroit years earlier in search of work. He attended local schools and would often stroll over to the nearby Motown studios to see who was playing, to see who the stars were. By the time he graduated from Southwestern High the young Collier had moved from music fan to a kind of music creator, mixing records in his parents’ basement. He moved out of the family house in his early 20s after informing his parents of his sexual preferences (no mean feat for a young black man at the time) and began his professional career as a DJ.
Throughout his years, Collier would appear on disco station WLBS (102.7 FM) and at various straight cabarets, prep parties and clubs. He would also dabble in record production, co-mixing a handful of tracks with Don Was and Duane Bradley ” in the early ’80s. But if clubbers wanted to hear Collier regularly, they didn’t turn to their record collections. Instead they had to see him with his audience, in local gay clubs, from the Chessmate to Heaven.