A Gift Worth More Than Gold

Remembering two iconic musicians with diabetes

musicians with diabetesBy Kalimah Johnson

April 2014 — Complications of type 2 diabetes can be devastating.  Yesterday, I found out that one of the most provocative innovators of house music passed away.  Frankie Knuckles was one of my favorite musicians with diabetes, and he died at the age of 59 from complications related to type 2 diabetes.   I am a huge fan of house music, which is the birth child of disco and the parent to techno and electronic music.  As a type 2 diabetic myself, it is important to "move that body." Nothing helps me relieve stress, exercise, and have fun at the same time more than listening to — and of course "dancing my butt off" to — the creations of Frankie Knuckles.

Type 2 diabetes can be a secret killer.  This morning, I found out that this musical genius who strung beats together to replicate the sounds of big city clamor and Chicago/Detroit manufacturing had a leg amputation in 2008.  It took me right back to remembering another of my favorite musicians with diabetes from Detroit — Ken Collier — who died in 1996 from complications of diabetes at the age of 47.  He was in a coma for some time and eventually succumbed to the disease.  Like Knuckles, he was a pioneer of this distinct style of music.  A foundation was created in his name to bring awareness to the black community and raise funds to help expose the impact of the disease.  I don't know how active they are now, but maybe this recent loss will inspire us to begin to talk about it in more specific and deliberate ways.  Type 2 diabetes does not have to be a secret anymore.  With advances in technology, medicine, research, and support services, maybe we can finally get control of this condition.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with type 2 diabetes can be a pain sometimes.  I imagine that these musicians with diabetes had very hectic schedules with travel and show dates, late nights, and many sacrifices.  These men loved their work and the folks who danced to their music even more.  I wish they did not have to die so young.  I wish someone had been proactive and in their corners coaching them on how to manage the disease.  This condition is degenerative, and the more proactive we are, the better our health outcomes will be. These men are proof that the disease will take you out of here… period.  

There are many lessons in life that can be taught through this loss of two musicians with diabetes.  Frankie Knuckles and Ken Collier were brilliant musicians with diabetes, gone too soon due to complications of a disease that I have in common with them.  I thank them for their contributions. I am grieving that they are now gone, but I am hopeful that their ultimate sacrifice can be a catalyst for discussions in many spaces where their music permeates, including festivals, bars, parks, Twitter feeds, YouTube, and so on. These brothers have left us with the gift of music and inspiration, worth more than gold; a gift in recognizing that we must be proactive in our diabetes care. We must be out and out loud about our status, and we must demand more of ourselves and of others around us to tackle this disease.  I am truly feeling this loss and it is also a reminder of how my grandmother and my mother left this world form the complications of type 2 diabetes.  There is one thing I am sure of, though. Whenever I need to feel that hypnotic beat, from my head to my feet, I can put on a house record created by Knuckles or Collier and allow its vibration to move me and thrust me to a happy place.
And they, with my ancestors, will be proud. And I will be satisfied, knowing that I will conquer and manage this disease for a better me.

Got it sugar?


Read more of Kalimah Johnson's columns, Get it Together, Sugar, here.

dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: May 21, 2014

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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