1992-04-04

CHARLES ARTHUR RUSSELL JR. experimental American musician, died (b: 1952) Professionally known as Arthur Russell, he was an American cellist, composer, singer and disco artist who found the most success in dance music, Russell’s career bridged New York’s downtown, rock, and dance music scenes; his collaborators ranged from Philip Glass to David Byrne to Nicky Siano. Relatively unknown during his life, a series of reissues and compilations raised his profile in the 2000s.

Russell was born and raised in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where he studied the cello and began to write his own music. When he was eighteen he moved to San Francisco, where he lived in a Buddhist commune and studied North Indian music at the Ali Akbar College of Music. He met Allen Ginsberg, with whom he began to work, accompanying him on the cello while Allen sang or read his poetry.

In 1973, Russell moved to New York and began study at the Manhattan School of Music. He contributed to The Flying Hearts in studio work and, occasionally, in performance with David Byrne, Rhys Chatham, Jon Gibson, Peter Gordon and many others. In 1975 to 1979 this ensemble, together with Glenn Iamaro, Bill Ruyle and Jon Sholle, performed and recorded the orchestral composition of Instrumentals (Disques du Crepescule, 1984, Belgium).

In 1980, Russell started a relationship with Tom Lee that lasted until Russell’s death. Lee is the executor of Russell’s estate. In 1979, Russell wrote and produced ‘Kiss Me Again,’ under the name Dinosaur. It was the first disco single to be released by Sire Records, and the first of many of Russell’s innovative dance tunes. This was followed by ‘Is It All Over My Face?‘ by Loose Joints, released in 1980. In 1981, Russell and the entrepreneur William Socolov founded Sleeping Bag Records and their first release was his 24-24 Music. The number ‘Go Bang‘, which originated from this album, was re-mixed as a 12″ single by Francois Kevorkian. These songs were all frequently played at Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage; in particular, Levan’s remix of “Is It All Over My Face” (one of his earliest remixes) has been recognized as a prototype of garage music.

Russell died of HIV/AIDS in 1992, at the age of forty. Kyle Gann of The Village Voice wrote: “His recent performances had been so infrequent due to illness, his songs were so personal, that it seems as though he simply vanished into his music.”