DJ Mike Huckaby Called Detroit Home. His Music Moved People Around the World.

Huckaby was a pillar of Detroit’s burgeoning electronic music scene in the 1980s, creating a musical career that sent him touring and performing around the globe. After passing away at the age of 54, he leaves a legacy as a mentor to local youth.

One of the early pioneers of Detroit’s techno and house electronic music scenes has died.

DJ, producer and educator Mike Huckaby died on Friday, April 24th at the age of 54 from complications of a stroke, according to his brother Craig Huckaby.

During his hospital stay, he was also diagnosed with COVID-19.

Listen: Detroit’s Music Scene Remembers Mike Huckaby

If you looked at a yearbook from the former Cooley High School in the mid-1980s, it’s a who’s who of talented teens from the westside of the city that would go on to become internationally known DJs. 

Names like Carl CraigAnthony “Shake” Shakir, and Huckaby pop up — major players in forging a new sound that would cement Detroit as an international capitol of electronic music.

“He took many years studying music knowledge, chord knowledge and equipment knowledge.” — Norm Talley, DJ

Whether it was helping you pick out the perfect 12” at the former Record Time record store, where Huckaby was a longtime buyer and curator of the record store’s ‘dance room,’ or bringing the sound of Detroit to clubs in Berlin and abroad, Huckaby made an impact on the city’s music scene as a talented DJ, producer and teacher to the next generation of homegrown musicians.

But Huckaby got started when he was still in the classroom himself. 

Doug Coombe
Doug Coombe

At home, Huckaby’s musical education would start early with his uncles and older brother, Craig, sharing their vast musical knowledge with him.

“They would play a record and have a competition to see who could name the bass player, who could name the guitar player, who could name the drummer,” says Norm Talley, one of the godfathers of Detroit’s electronic music scene who went to high school with Huckaby and performed locally and internationally with him over the years.

Both Talley and Huckaby would go on to help build Detroit’s deep house music scene — a staple in the city as rave culture began to boom in the 1990s.

They also played a major role in bringing the sound of the Motor City to the rest of the world, where international audiences were hungry for anything Detroit.

Huckaby was a staple on hometown bills, too, including the annual Movement electronic music festival, formerly known as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival.

“He really loved the music and he put his all into everything he did,” Talley says. “He took many years studying music knowledge, chord knowledge and equipment knowledge.”

That mix of immense knowledge and ear for soulful, jazz-influenced records made Huckaby a stand-out in a crowded house music scene.

“It was hard to stand still during a Mike Huckaby DJ set. Musically, he would take you on a journey.” — Adriel Thornton, promoter

Following his passing, Huckaby has been remembered for his dedication to influencing the next generation of musical talent in Detroit, teaching classes at places like Youthville Detroit, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the lives of youth. Huckaby was a major advocate for new digital software that made making music more accessible. 

“It was hard to stand still during a Mike Huckaby DJ set,” says Adriel Thornton, a longtime Detroit promoter who had booked Mike Huckaby over the years to play parties at places like St. Andrew’s Hall downtown. 

Thornton is also a big time fan of Mike’s music.

“Musically, he would take you on a journey,” says Thornton. “His track selection was par none.”

Most importantly, Thornton believes that Huckaby’s work with youth — specifically black youth in Detroit — will be what he is remembered for most.

“Teaching young, African American boys and girls how to use this software, how to use a computer and how to let their imaginations run free with these digital tools , that’s the kind of thing that might’ve changed the trajectory of their lives,” says Thornton.

Paxahau, the organizers of Movement, plan to livestream Huckaby’s 2006 – 2018 sets in tribute to him, beginning Thursday, April 30, at 4:00 pm.

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  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.