Chuck Brown May Be Gone, But He'll Forever Go-Go (VIDEO)

Chuck BrownHe’s probably the best musician you never really knew. Here in D.C., he’s hometown royalty, second only in importance to Barack and Michelle themselves. Now he’s gone on to jam with the other legendary musicians in the great above. Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go, passed away today at Johns Hopkins University Hospital after complications from a month-long bout with pneumonia. The 75-year-old made his mark on the international world of music as a pioneer in—and some folks say the founder of­­­­­—D.C.’s signature go-go music.

If you’ve never heard go-go, you’re missing out on the instrumental medley of timbales, congos, drums and, with Chuck Brown at center stage, his signature blonde guitar. It’s a fusion of Latin, African, and jazz influences with a touch of hip-hop flavor, and incites call-and-response interaction between the person doing the singin’ and the people doing the dancin’. 


It’s the kind of music that makes you pull your hair up in a ponytail and party until the walls sweat. (You have to, since it's not unusual for one song to last upwards of 7, even 10 minutes.) That’s what Chuck always wanted. For folks to have a good time with his music as a soundtrack. 

I’m not a native Washingtonian—I was born and raised in Pennsylvania—but Chuck was no stranger to our household, even two hours away from his D.C. base. On Saturday mornings, when it was time to start housecleaning, my mom would crank music on what seemed like a massive stereo system back then, probably because I wasn’t allowed to touch it and the air of mystery around it made it seem much larger and complex than it actually was. She would pump out Parliament Funkadelic, The S.O.S. Band, Marvin Gaye, and the Temptations, but she also loved her some Chuck Brown. So his classics “Sardines” and “Bustin’ Loose” were staples in our weekend rotation. That gravelly voice was already familiar by the time I moved to the District.

There are two institutions here in the Nation’s Capital: the Washington Redskins and Chuck Brown. So this evening, with the news of his passing still a fresh wound across a city where plenty of folks refer to Mr. Brown on a first-name basis—like he’s family and there couldn’t possibly be another man worth noting with the same name—people gathered by Howard University to dance in the streets to the songs Chuck Brown left behind as his legacy.

It’s feel-good music that means something more than what the lyrics even say. Hearing him, for some reason, just instantly makes me happy. Puts me at ease. I’m sure it has a similar effect on many of the other people who are fans. He’s gone, but his influence will never let him be forgotten. Go-go isn’t going anywhere. It’s changing and stretching itself, but it’s still as homegrown as D.C.’s signature mambo sauce and kitschy slang. And we’ll always have Chuck Brown to thank for that.  

What musician or song takes you to a happy place?

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