Damn if R. Kelly doesn’t love the drama. The Chicago R&B artist’s autobiography Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me comes out this weekend (although Kelly won’t be making promotional appearances, citing a recurrence of the throat problems he had last year). In the book, just like any teen girl scribbling away in her hearts-and flowers-covered journal, Kelly makes a true confession: Ryan “Hey Girl” Gosling’s performance in the 2004 film The Notebook proved just the emotional wake-up call Kelly needed to recognize his marriage was over.
Kelly’s description of breaking down in tears as the movie credits rolled comes as no surprise – not from the man who penned I Believe I Can Fly (not to mention Real Talk). The man who wrung a 22 chapter ‘hip hopera’ out of the imagined consequences of a one-night stand (with more to come). The same guy whose lawyers posited an equally vast conspiracy of video alterations and AWOL moles to defend him against 14 counts of child pornography.
It was in the midst of the latter that Kelly put out some of his best musical work, including the double album Happy People/U Saved Me. The first record has some of my favorite Kelly songs - especially the title track “Happy People,” an anthem to the Chicago steppin’ scene.
At the beginning of the song Kelly says “Ladies and gentlemen, this here’s another one for all the steppers. DJ Wayne Williams, put the record on.” The DJ complies – and throughout the video you see him dancing on a balcony overlooking the dance floor of the palatial club. It’s a fitting image – a tribute of sorts – because Williams has played a huge role in Kelly’s career and life.
Williams is a legendary Chicago DJ and music producer, the man who actually got R. Kelly signed to Jive Records. He’s also credited with bringing the house music sound out of gay clubs and into the straight, South Side scene, from whence dancers everywhere eventually followed the edict to Move Your Body.
When Williams came in this week to talk about The Chosen Few, his annual house music blow-out, I asked him for the story behind “Happy People.” At the time Kelly wrote it, Williams was in the hospital, suffering from what he thought was an asthma attack, but turned out to be something more serious. When he got out, Kelly told Williams about the song. Williams was nonplussed. “Robert’s a jokester, so I’m half not believing him. I asked him what it was called. He said Happy People? I’m like - Why?!”
Kelly chalked the song up to William’s positive spirit, which he claimed “fulfilled him.” It’s a claim well-earned. Williams still works with Kelly and supports his friend through thick and thin, saying, “He’s a genius and probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
Williams has moved many, many more with his positive, generous spirit. Every July he, his brother Jesse Saunders and the other Chosen Few DJs (it’s a select group, not everyone gets to join!), throw a house and disco party in Jackson Park. Over the past 22 years it’s grown from a small gathering of friends to one of the biggest house music events in the world.
Their main gig is all day Saturday, but Williams and Saunders will host other events and even sneak in a trip to see their “favorite team,” the Chicago White Sox. Williams also has a new task this year: building in a little extra hang time with his son Jordan – who was born last picnic weekend.
The Chosen Few is just one of Weekender’s picks – the rest are below. Get out there, and move your body!
The award-winning, 17-year-old filmmaker Emma Coleman curates a program of other young directors.
Friday and Saturday 7:30 p.m.
The chapel will resound with symphonic work by Vierne.
5850 S. Woodlawn Ave
Friday - Sunday
Contemporary art work exploring our fascination with tall buildings.
220 E. Chicago Ave