Charlie Gillett, 68; DJ advocated world music
LONDON —Charlie Gillett, a deejay and music historian who helped bring music from around the world to wider attention, has died at the age of 68, his employer, the British Broadcasting Corp., said Thursday.
The BBC said Mr. Gillett died in a London hospital Wednesday. He had an autoimmune disease and suffered a heart attack.
Mr. Gillett was a fixture of the BBC’s domestic radio stations and its World Service, where his show offered a wildly eclectic mix of music from around the globe.
In contrast to the narrow formats of most radio stations, Mr. Gillett played everything from Cajun boogie to Nigerian soul to Portuguese fado, gaining a devoted international following.
World Service director Peter Horrocks said Mr. Gillett was “an inspiration whose spirit of adventure and passion for the rich diversity of global music opened the ears of the world.’’
Many musicians had reason to be grateful to Mr. Gillett. Among the artists he championed were Youssou N’Dour of Senegal and Salif Keita of Mali, and he was credited with launching the career of Dire Straits by playing the then-unknown band’s song “Sultans of Swing’’ on his BBC London radio show in 1976, prompting a battle to sign them by record companies.
He also played unreleased tracks by Elvis Costello, who said that “it seemed like some kind of magic trick when Charlie made the first broadcast of my home-produced demo tape.’’
Costello said, “I will always be grateful for those few curious minutes when I sat with my head cocked like Nipper the Dog at the improbable sound of my own voice coming out of a radio speaker.’’
Born in Morecambe, England, in 1942, Mr. Gillett studied at Cambridge University and at Columbia University in New York, where he wrote a master of arts thesis on the history of rock ’n’ roll. He expanded it into the book “The Sound of the City,’’ published in 1970 and regarded as one of the best accounts of the genre’s early years.