Chuck Brown died yesterday. Brown, also called the “Godfather of Go Go,” was a Washington, DC legend and a 2010 Grammy Award nominee whose unique mix of funk, soul, jazz and Latin music transcended generations. Sometime during the 1970s, Brown’s style of music, as well as that of a few other local bands in the nation’s capital, came to be called go-go, and a popular line in some circles was – if you don’t know about Go-Go, then you don’t know DC.
Brown, as recognizable by his gold front tooth as for his style of music, was born in 1936. Although he was a Great Depression era baby, originally from Gaston, North Carolina, when he became a master of go-go in the DMV (District, Maryland and Virginia), he captured the hearts of many of the local teenaged offspring of Baby Boomer parents, and some of his tunes won the admiration of Boomer parents as well; even before the rest of the country knew who he was.
From the time my son was about 16, he was a fan of Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers, but because go-go music sometimes attracted a troublesome crowd, I tried to discourage his attendance at local go-go events.
My concern about the violence associated with go-go was expressed by Kenneth Carroll in an article published in The Washington Post in 1998, “Go-go drew negative publicity . . . some of it deserved. As cocaine and violence began overwhelming D.C., some knuckleheads used go-go shows to settle petty arguments or develop reputations for themselves . . . By the mid-’80s, go-go – which could cram hundreds of sweaty, dancing youths into a venue and keep them grooving peacefully all night – was identified with the violence that occurred after the shows.”
My favorite Brown tune was Bustin’ Loose, which became a #1 hit on Billboard’s R&B charts in 1979. Brown could have easily been nicknamed the funk and soul man, because the raspy voiced singer and guitarist, along with his rockin’ band, knew how to play that funky music.
On the evening of the day he died many fans of the 75 year old held a flash vigil in front of the famous Howard Theater in Northwest, DC, where Brown had been scheduled to perform on the 29th of June. Just steps away from the door of the theater is Chuck Brown Way, a street named in Brown’s honor in 2009. The go-go man is gone-gone now, but Washingtonian’s will long remember him.