Go-go Live: Geography of a Chocolate City

Today in the Metro section of The Washington Post (Page B2) we illustrate how The District’s Go-go haunts have come and gone- and how that change is a reflection of the transforming, gentrifying city. Here’s the intro to the map we featured, written by Natalie Hopkinson, a Washington writer and author of the forthcoming “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City.” You can also find other Post coverage on go-go in the links below.

Recently, I was at a fancy auction for my kid’s school chatting with another parent about the rapidly gentrifying areas around U Street and Georgia Avenue. “They’ve gone from zero to 60 in no time flat!” he said. I smiled politely, but burned inside. Zero? Really? As if nothing was there before the billions in investment came. Before suburban commutes became so unbearable that the people with money reversed their migration back into the city. Before there were city budget surpluses to renovate houses and update infrastructure and schools and build stadiums. Before the most recent Census figures confirmed that the majority-black Chocolate City was no more.

Zero. Nothing. Worthless.

Well, part of what I hope to convey in my book “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City,” (Duke University Press) is exactly how wrong he is. When so many left the city for dead after the 1968 MLK riots, plenty of folks stayed and kept it alive. After the fires, first the artists came. Chuck Brown created the go-go sound—a mix of funk, blues and Latin Rhythms—in the mid-1970s. And soon it caught on to generations of D.C. musicians--bands such as Rare Essence, Backyard Band, TCB, Suttle Thoughts, the INI Band. They filled old broken down storefronts, school proms, firehouses and crumbling buildings with music. And the people came, and they sang, danced, played instruments, designed fliers, partied, and wore fashions made by them for them.

Go-go did its hardest work during D.C.’s drug war/Murder Capital days in the 1980s and 1990s. Like a New Orleans Second Line, Washingtonians gathered in communion and fellowship over that signature conga beat to mourn the holocaust of lives cut short by bullets and mass incarceration. Among citizens of the Chocolate City, the culture entered a dialogue sacred as the halls of Congress.

Follow Natalie Hopkinson on Twitter.

Related content


View Photo Gallery: The Godfather of Go-Go, who died May 16 at age 75, is remembered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Reggie ‘Polo’ Burwell, leader of bounce beat band TCB, is in a coma but not forgotten

‘Bounce beat’ and go-go’s generation gap

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read

local

therootdc

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters