Condolences were pouring in online after it was reported that Sam “The Man” Burns, a legendary DJ in Washington, D.C., had died. Washington Post music critic Chris Richards confirmed Burns’ death on Saturday. His cause of death was not immediately reported.
Sam “The Man,” a D.C. native, was remembered as a highly influential member of the music scene in the nation’s capital who rocked dance floors for more than four decades as a professional DJ. While house music was his specialty — soulful house music, at that — friends and fans took to social media to mourn him and his overall musical prowess and knowledge of various genres that solidified his acclaimed status in the game.
He was influential to many other DJs, Chris Stiles, who worked with him for years at a record store called DJ Hut (formerly known as 12″ Dance Record) in Northwest Washington, recalled on Facebook in a post days before Burns died.
“Sam has shown the way for so many DJ’s like me,” Stiles wrote on Monday in an attempt to bring attention to a GoFundMe account started for Burns, who was seeking help during what he called “a tough period” in his life. “Sam has influenced and served up records to more DJ’s than any other DJ in the DMV. His service of over 40 years to this city, the culture and the community are unmeasurable.”
The organizer of the GoFundMe updated it on Saturday to confirm Burns’ death and said the money raised — which was nearly at its goal of $10,000 by early Sunday morning — would “be used towards his funeral and burial expenses and any left over will be given to his beloved son Mason.”
A biographical entry on the Resident Advisor website that brings attention to electronic music artists shed some light on how Burns earned his nickname:
“November 20th 1978 The journey began…. nightclubs, records stores, record pools and radio that gave Sam the on the job training experience that forced him to be on point with the tasks at hand. (You had to deliver 9 out of 10 times to be called “The Man”) a nickname that Sam resisted for YEARS!!! Until a life changing experience, Sam accepted the ‘dj name.'”
In a profile in the Washington City Paper, D.C.’s weekly alternative news outlet, Burns opened up about his process in feeling out the crowds when he DJ’ed at nightclubs.
“It’s like a journey,” Burns said in the piece that was published in 1998. “In the early part of the night, no one’s there. It’s like foreplay. You gotta know when to pick it up and when to peak it. You gotta know how to get people into a frenzy.”
That was a foolproof recipe, friends and fans said in online tributes.
“Sam ‘The Man’ was the godfather of the DC House scene and a wise mentor, teacher and inspiration to so many DJs. All night long funk, your [sic] going home wet funk!” a person named Shari Tee wrote on Facebook on Saturday. “A kind, gentle soul, super funny and super supportive leader, a trendsetter. Men of men. DC will never be the same. You will be immensely missed friend.”
The Post provided a glimpse into Burns’ ascension to becoming a “nightlife legend” in D.C.
“Before long, he landed his first nightclub gig, underage, as a doorman, eventually working his way up to the DJ booth, then out into the city’s greater club circuit, first spinning disco, then house, then whatever made people move,” Richards wrote in 2017 when Burns was 60 years old.
For Burns, it was always about the music he played and the people dancing to it, he told Richards.
“Enthusiasts like to be challenged,” Burns said of clubbers who faithfully followed him from spot to spot where he spun. “They like taking chances, taking risks. You might put on something you’d never thought about playing, and if you play it at the right moment, people just lose themselves. Those are the memories that last forever.”
Scroll down to see a handful of examples for how people across social media were honoring the life of Sam “The Man” Burns.