Don Welch on the Gwen McCrae Benefit Concert & the Future of House Music

I was alerted to the plight of classic house diva Gwen McCrae by old friend Don Welch of the Underground Network. Ms. McCrae, best known for her smash dance track “Funky Sensation,” suffered a massive stroke in London on June 3rd. She has thankfully survived but is paralyzed on her left side. Her family is trying to get her home to Florida where they can take care of her. A fundraiser has been set up for next Wednesday the 22nd, at Ajna, 25 Little West 12th Street, from 6pm till 4am. The outpouring of support from the community has been spectacular. House legend Colonel Abrams is hosting, and I have been told that Melba Moore will also be on hand. The incredible number of participants is too long to list here so I’ll just post the invite. I am told that new people are getting involved daily. This is one of those must-attend events, not only because of the good that it will do for Gwen and her family, but because that room will be filled with genius and love and that’s hard to find these days.

Don Welch is old-school, old-school. He is one of those quiet, behind-the-scenes people who has shaped the house universe. As briefly as I can I’ll list some of his too-numerous-to-list accomplishments:

Don Welch is a DJ, co-founder of the internationally-renowned Underground Network, former Billboard reporter, CEO of OHM Music & Film Works, and an event promoter. He DJd Eddie Murphy’s wedding at the Plaza Hotel. He received gold and platinum records from Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, C&C Music Factory, Crystal Waters, and De La Soul. His Underground Network has hosted relevant events since 1992. Him, along with Barbara Tucker, created the Dance Music Industry Night, with legendary DJ Little Louie Vega doing what he does. The list of promoters and celebrities and DJs that have graced his events is a who’s-who of dance and pop culture. In 2006, Don launched Soul Party NYC, promoting classic R&B events. He’s still throwing that party. On September 8th, at Commodore Park, Barbara Tucker and Don will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Underground Network.

I caught up with Don as he was getting the word out about that Funky Sensation Gwen McCrae:

It’s amazing how the community has gotten together for this cause. Tell me about the event… who is involved?
Well, I was first told about Gwen McCrae’s condition from singer Colonel Abrams, who was in London on the same show; Gwen fell ill in her hotel room and never made it to the stage. When Colonel came back to the states he told me Gwen was still in London in the hospital after a massive stroke and was paralyzed on her left side. As a DJ, Gwen has brought me and my audience amazing memories of dancing to her music, so I’ve always felt very close to her. I posted her condition on my Facebook page & the love and support was incredible. That’s when I spoke to her family and was told about all the astronomical medical bills and the transportation to get her home to Pensacola, Florida. That’s when I reached out to friends like Louie Vega, Jellybean, David Morales, Rochelle Fleming, Bob Davis, Soulfinger, you, and so many stars in this business. They all said anything they could do to help count them in and I am so grateful for their support. We will feature some of the greatest DJs and classic singers. We have so much talent, DJs might only get to play five songs each and singers only one.  

Tell me about Gwen McCrae.
Here is the biography of Gwen McCrae: for over three decades, Gwen McCrae has been a soul and blues powerhouse singer entertaining audiences worldwide. She started out singing as a child with her mother who played piano in church. With a heartfelt phrasing for the blues and the spirit-filled sounds from her soul, Gwen has entertained audiences in countless sold-out venues and set her music in a Blues and Soul category of its own. Since the early ’60s, Gwen has paid her dues, on tour with the likes of Smokey Robinson, Luther Vandross, James Brown, The Temptations, The O Jays, Spinners, James Cleveland, and many more. Gwen’s entertaining has included concerts at The Apollo Theatre, Madison Square Garden, Cow Palace in LA, Disneyland, television shows such as American Band Stand, Soul Train, Midnight Special, In Concert, as well as various venues throughout the world in London, Paris, Germany, Scotland, and Venice, just to mention a few.

I remember house music. Nowadays the electronic dance music scene has grown enormous. Are young people still embracing house or does the energy lay elsewhere?
The electronic music scene is tremendous, but the soulful house music scene is making a strong comeback. It just needs better venues. Lots of club owners love the music but the bar sales aren’t as good as others because no real, true dancers can drink a bottle of Hennessy or Stolichnaya and dance with energy all night.

For a tourist coming to NYC looking for the real deal, what parties or clubs are true to the religion that is house?
The true house parties have become mobile… always on the move until you and I open one 🙂

Will this event, based of course on a tragedy, have the effect of reuniting different members and aspects of the house community, and possibly be the catalyst for future events?
Definitely, but I’ve been bringing different types of talent together for years and will continue to do so… stay tuned.