One of the hallmarks of go-go music, Washington’s homespun strain of funk, is its incessant, syncopated beat, which “just goes and goes.” Chuck Brown’s band kept the rhythm going Saturday at the Harlem Renaissance Festival in Prince George’s County — but the pulsating beat was missing its beloved progenitor, who hasn’t performed in more than two months because of unspecified health concerns.
As the mystery surrounding the 75-year-old Godfather of Go-Go’s condition deepened last week, Twitter-spawned rumors of his death ricocheted across the Internet. The musician’s family and manager swatted down the story, but the question persisted: What’s really wrong with Chuck Brown?
On Monday, Brown’s daughter, KK Brown, finally raised the curtain on his condition. “He has pneumonia,” she said in a brief interview, adding that he’s been hospitalized for two months. “He is in the hospital, he is recovering and people need to just keep praying for him.”
KK Brown, who performs in her father’s band, declined to provide additional details. But according to sources close to the family, Chuck Brown was admitted to a hospital complaining of arthritis, and doctors discovered and removed a blood clot in an unspecified area of his body. As he recovered from the operation, the sources said, Brown contracted pneumonia, which continues to keep him on the sidelines of the music scene he helped transform.
His health problems prompted canceled shows from Blues Alley to Brooklyn, disappointing his fans. He recently cleared his May concert calendar of gigs.
Brown’s manager, Tom Goldfogle, did not respond to multiple requests for comment Monday.
A guitarist, songwriter and gravelly voiced singer with an abundance of charisma, Brown was at the vanguard of a percussive, new sound that emerged in 1970s Washington. If go-go has remained a regional flavor, then Brown is its undisputed top chef, a living legend in non-official Washington, where there’s even a street named in his honor. Wall Street Journal music critic Jim Fusilli said on Twitter last month that “talking to [Brown] in D.C. is like talking to Elvis in Memphis.”
But Washington’s Elvis disappeared in March, when he announced that he was canceling a show in Charlotte. “I’m under the weather, and doctor says I need a couple days rest,” he wrote on Facebook. A week later, on March 8, Brown provided an update: “Feelin better everyday.”
But his Facebook timeline began to raise more questions than it answered as a couple of days’ rest turned into a few weeks. On April 12, he wrote: “I’m still in recovery mode, but doing better and looking forward to partying with ya’ll again soon!”
Then, after the postponement of Brown’s April 21 concert at the historic Howard Theatre, another funk legend, Bootsy Collins, wrote on Facebook: “Funkateers, we call on Yr Prayers & Love vibes for our friend ‘Chuck Brown’ the Godfather of Go-Go. He needs a Speedy Recovery. No more Details at this time.”
The Howard’s announcement of Brown’s postponement cited “joint pain and inflammation that has prevented him from performing.” A spokeswoman for the theater said the language came directly from Goldfogle, Brown’s manager.
The sold-out show has been rescheduled for June 29. But on Brown’s Web site, windmeupchuck.com, the page that usually lists upcoming concert dates is empty, save for a message: “Mr. Brown’s tour schedule is temporarily unavailable pending his recovery from a recent illness. When his schedule resumes, it will be posted here.”
Saturday, Brown’s band played at the Harlem Renaissance Festival in Landover, even though its leader remained hospitalized.
“Keep praying,” KK Brown said onstage. “He’s a fighter.”
Then, the band led the festival crowd in Chuck Brown’s famous call and response.
“Wind me up, Chuck!”
“Wind me up, Chuck!”
For about 30 minutes, the band performed some of Chuck Brown’s signature songs, including “Bustin’ Loose,” adding some new lyrics in tribute to the absent icon.
On Monday, KK Brown said performing without her father was difficult. But the band had to play on, she said, because Chuck Brown wanted it.
“It was very emotional,” she said. “But it needed to be, because the music is everything.”