Hundreds gathered to remember Brown, who died Wednesday at 75, at the Soul Factory church in Forestville, and on Chuck Brown Way near the Howard Theatre.
“It’s like JFK,” said Rodney McManus, 40, of Anacostia, who used to sneak out when he was 12 years old to hear Brown play at the Masonic Temple on U Street NW. “D.C. lost its president. If you live in D.C., you love Chuck Brown.”
Brown’s “Eye Candy” boomed out of the jukebox at Ben’s as news of his death came over the TV behind the nine-seat counter. Ben’s manager, Maurice Harcum, filled the queue with the icon’s songs as soon as he learned of his death.
“We’re sad, but we’re going to celebrate Chuck,” Harcum said as grill cooks shouted along with the music. Harcum, 36, grew up listening to the Godfather of Go-Go, whose marathon, all-night concerts were a multi-generational ritual to much of black Washington. “I couldn’t wait to become old enough to come to his shows.”
Over the years, as Harcum became a familiar face behind the counter at Ben’s, he began to rate a mention in Brown’s famous onstage roll calls — a 2:30 a.m. sermonette in the middle of the party when the beat would keep on keeping on but Brown would lower his guitar and call out the names of kids in the audience, their mothers, their streets, their crews, their neighborhoods. Any mention endowed the mentioned with boasting rights for weeks to come.
“He’d say, ‘Big Mo, Chili Bowl,’ ” Harcum said. “To have Chuck Brown, the D.C. icon, say my name?” He shook his head. “Awesome.”
“Y’all get together and repeat after me,” Brown would sing, year after year, and for most of that time, he’d hardly bother calling out the lyrics, because everyone in the house knew every line.
Christopher Wade, a retired District police officer and onetime go-go musician himself, knew Brown for 25 years, adored his music and admired the man. Wednesday night, Wade just happened to have with him a framed photo of Brown from a years-ago police event. But his most meaningful memory of Brown resides in his mind’s eye, an image of Wade’s father, Rudolph Wade Sr., “dancing, doing the call-and-response” at age 95 at a Brown concert two years ago at Carter Barron Amphitheatre.
“Chuck Brown, that’s my dad’s favorite artist,” Wade said. “It was the best experience.”