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A Tribute to David Mills

2 April 2010 9 Comments

{Editors Note: David Mills was a journalist, television writer, and blogger who died suddenly on March 30. He was part of the WWTD family, very brilliant, and only 48. The loss is tragic and my condolences go out to his family and loved ones. I admired David too much to not add to the wonderful eulogies from close friends and colleagues, and I hope that you either join me in remembrance or learn a little bit about a great talent that we lost too soon. For more information about his life please check out the very thorough obituary in The Washington Post. The above photo is one from David’s blog that I always liked just because.}

Almost three years ago I started this blog having no idea what the “blogosphere” even was and certainly not considering myself a writer. Undercover Black Man by David Mills was one of the first blogs I read regularly. I studied the way he wrote, executed ideas, dealt with rambunctious comments, and gingerly shared the details of his personal life, all while maintaining a distinct voice and managing the expectations of his audience – it was all amazing. Eventually David started reading my blog in return, becoming a snarky part of the WWTD family and a mentor to me. He encouraged me to keep writing when my hiatuses felt cozier than brainstorming ideas did. He made a point of reminding me that I was talented and funny and in my heart a writer and storyteller even if I was trapped in a desk job. In 2008, when David featured a post of mine on Undercover Black Man and called me one of his favorite pop culture bloggers, I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face for hours and went out for drinks with friends to celebrate the praise. That’s how much I valued his opinion and, beyond that, the kindness behind his guidance. He was so easy to look up to, admire, and be inspired by.

The sudden death of David Mills leaves a void in the writing world and a chink in my armor that will take a while to mend. He believed in me and that’s no small thing. But what strikes me most about David – and what will endure – is his genius. Everything he did rested upon this smart, solid, very black brand of genius. People like to throw that word around as a substitute for ‘impressiveness” but David had demonstrated that as a television writer and journalist many times over. If you watch The Corner in its entirety it blows you away and stays with you for days afterward. Browsing his interviews, you can’t help but be thankful for how ridiculously smart this dude must have been to craft questions so skillfully. His blog Undercover Black Man included heavily researched investigative journalism pieces, music, and hilariously random musings about David’s life in a cohesive stream that couldn’t keep readers away. He was very funny and insightful but also humble about it, Emmys and all. I’m really going to miss him.

I was set to meet David in person in just a few weeks, which underscores the fragility of life and consequences of procrastination (not to mention his recent request for an update to one of my classic posts that I never got around to…it’s painful to think about). How do you mourn a person who meant such a great deal to you, but you never met face to face? I only know how to do one thing and that’s share some of what David shared with me and the world with whoever will read it. I hope you take the time to explore his work!

The Washington Post compiled a selection of his most notable music journalism from the time he spent there in the early nineties. Included is a gem about white rappers and a great flashback to the days when Kriss Kross was the intriguing rap group du jour. I’d be amiss not to point you to “Sister Souljah’s Call To Arms,” an interview so controversial that Bill Clinton sounded off on its contents. My personal favorite? His 1986 interview with Oprah Winfrey for Time Magazine.

David loved music, especially funk, and his fascination with Parliament Funkadellics led to the book George Clinton and P-Funk: An Oral History. He also posted free (and legal) mp3s all the time, many of which I picked up to expand my music collection. He also maintained a Vox blog with so many audio clips that it’s mind-boggling – he had very eclectic tastes.

David Mills was a ridiculously prolific blogger, sometimes posting multiple times per day for weeks at a time. I’m still digging through the early years of his blog before I started reading, but I enjoyed so many of his pieces from the past three years that I can barely list them all. My favorite was his well-researched series of posts starting with “The Attack of the GIANT Negroes.” The concept is genius, check out the full series here. I also loved “That Versatile N-word,” “Ballad of the Fake-Ass Indian,”, his retrospective on racial masking, and this post chronicling the history of calling black people monkeys. He also couldn’t stand the rumor that black men were injected with syphilis, and likewise debunks it, and his tv writer inside scoop “Thoughts on Theme,” is another educational read. So you don’t think he was all business, David’s random musings like “Randomonium” and “A Day Ruined,” are more quirky, personal pieces. He also had a thing for weird Japanese stuff that rubbed off on me, I might miss our camaraderie around that most of all.

I prefer that this post remain a permanent tribute to David’s work so I’m not going to post any tenuous almost-illegal YouTube clips from his television work. I’ll let you browse his IMDB page and find the clips yourself, but for starters if you haven’t seen The Corner you’re severely missing the boat. At the time of David’s passing he was working on the set of Treme, which will premiere on HBO April 11 and is obviously going to be so dope. He’d been excited about the show for a long time so I plan to be glued to my television watching. For now all we have is the extended preview.

Rest in peace, David.


  • tsboody said:

    great piece thembi…when the news first hit twitter, i recall your tweets and i knew this hit you hard. the fact that you paid tribute doing something that david encouraged you to do (write), speaks volumes about your admiration for him as both a writer and person. thanks for providing all the links. i look forward to reading…i hope the blog remains up so people can continue to read his work. RIP mr. mills…

  • justjudith said:

    excellent, thembi. i will miss him, too. he encouraged me to blog when only my sister was reading :) i will miss his wit and his admonishments for not posting my opinion about real time with bill maher soon enough. it’s been such a shock. thanks for the tribute.


  • Thembi Ford (author) said:

    I should have mentioned how many of his readers I stole and how many sites – yours for example – he turned me on to.

  • Yolonda said:

    Lovely Tribute…he will be missed by many

  • Leon X said:

    Great post with even greater links. When I saw that David Mills passed away I didn’t make the connection with his blog right away. When I did I felt deflated. I was upset when he stopped doing Undercover Black Man for awhile and glad to see him return to it.

    My favorite running post of his were his Saturday Morning Cartoons that he seemed to pull from nowhere. His music posts were tight as well. He’s the reason I got a Vox account so I could post music. He did a post on one of my favorite artists, Lewis Taylor (during a white folks with soul week on his blog) that I just loved. Mr. Mills will be missed.

  • itzdabuttafly said:

    Nice tribute, Thembi. I stan for The Wire, but somehow know little about Mills’ career other than the fact that he is one of many responsible for the awesomeness of that show. I look forward to combing through this post to enjoy the links you’ve compiled.

  • yamma99 said:

    Wow, thanks for the wonderful tribute. I had been reading Undercoverblackman for a little over year now and loved his posts. What a loss of such wonderful talent. He will be missed.

  • justjudith said:

    thembi: the tribute was perfect, sis. i miss him but our little blog family will move on despite the huge vacuum he leaves us with. i see you doing big things and i’m pulling for ya! happy Easter!!

  • bklyn6 said:

    That was really nice, thembi! I’ve been reading such nice things about David. Sorry you won’t get to meet him.

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