There will be a lot of well-meaning words said of the legacy of Chuck Brown this week. But many of them will be hollow.
Brown’s memorial service on May 31 gives people from all walks of life a chance to wax poetic about what Chuck’s life and legacy means to D.C. and the world of music. The problem is many folks have done little to honor the legacy of his musical invention, and in some cases have done things that have hampered its growth and development.
I am a child of D.C. nursed by the beat of Chuck’s musical creation. I’ve experienced the emotional rush that came from hollering, “Wind me up, Chuck!” with thousands of other people, while Brown embraced us with his gravelly voice and the affirmation: “Aww love you so much now.” Rare Essence played at my junior high school prom.
Then, as an adult, I worked with city officials to get Mayor Anthony Williams to proclaim May 22, 2004, “Murder Free D.C. Family Go-Go Expo Day” and watched while old-school and new-school bands played at the D.C. Tunnel. Brown’s music and those who played it over the years have created the soundtrack of my life.
But the thing that has upset me since Brown died is how so many people have talked about the importance of his legacy and yet so many have done little to support it over the years. I’ve heard more positive talk about go-go in the past few weeks than I have in the past several years. So, with that in mind, here are some suggestions on some things that can be done to honor Brown’s legacy and get beyond hollow talk.
Go-go bands: You all can take a note from Brown and make good music that or doesn’t contain profanity or encourage drug use. You can stop making music that condones mindless sexuality, violence and use of the “N-word.” If your beat is cranking, if your melodies and chords are tight, folks will get into your music from go-go to gospel to country. Meanwhile, look for more ways to work together to grow the industry, and not just get gigs where you make a few dollars. Grow the pie.
Fans: No more fighting or shooting at the go-go or outside the go-go. Most people who attend a go-go aren’t looking for trouble. But for decades, go-gos have been plagued by violence and the perception of violence. This is one reason why there are so few clubs where bands can play.
If you know someone has beef or is about to start something, do all you can to squash it — or let the security know. Each time a fight closes down a show, each time a person is shot in the parking lot, the go-go industry is further crippled from growing.
Politicians: Before you get up with your long speeches about Brown this week, ask yourself if you’ve done anything from your seat of power to support an original American art form that was born in D.C.? Instead of embracing the go-go community and trying to help grow the genre, the political play for years has been to look tough while shutting down clubs that hosted go-gos.
Good leaders would have seen the upside potential for go-go, a source of jobs in an industry from artist to producer to sound technician to label owner, see the evolution of hip-hip for more insights. Good leaders would have seen go-go as an outlet where many local youngsters, mostly African American, were developing skills as musicians and businesspeople.
Club owners — for those who created DJ-only clubs that have had policies to not play go-go — thanks for nothing. Let your DJs play the music. For owners who have hosted or could host go-gos, reach back out to bands and local government leaders and create safe and fun environments for patrons.
Radio stations: Some of you have actually created go-go shows. Thank you. Some of you played go-go only when Chuck died. Seems hollow. And it would be nice to hear some go-go outside of a 30- to 60-minute show once a day. Incorporate some into your rotation or drop some in from time to time. If the quality is lacking, talk with the bands. I know some stations have done this. More can be done.
I thank God for the life and legacy of Chuck Brown. I pray for his soul and for comfort for his family. My sincere hope is that the occasion of his memorial service will lead to some constructive action to support the music genre and industry he created. This would honor his legacy much more than hollow words.
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