Chuck Brown made D.C. a more joyous place

May 17, 2012

Now DC is the subject, but it’s not unique.

This is happenin’ round the country and it makes me freak.

I wonder how things could get so out of control,

and how hearts can turn so very cold.

SET TO THE percussive rhythms of the go-go genre he pioneered, those words by Chuck Brown in 1988 lamented the violence that was then gripping the District of Columbia. The song, “D.C. Don’t Stand for Dodge City,” was an example of how the legendary Mr. Brown used his music not just to entertain but to bring people together.

Mr. Brown, the D.C. bandleader and composer known as the “Godfather of Go-Go,” died Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He was 75.

News of his death brought an outpouring of tributes. “D.C.’s very own unique contribution to the world of pop music,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray. Fans gathered outside a Forestville church and on the D.C. street that bears his name to listen to his music and to tell stories of how that signature sound — which Mr. Brown likened to gumbo because it had a lot of ingredients, no fixed recipe and no two batches were ever the same — affected their lives.

“Music was about having fun, enjoying each other,” his daughter, Cherita Whiting, told us. David Bowers, who as founder of No Murders DC worked to eliminate homicides, stressed how Mr. Brown’s lyrics were always positive, about acting and doing right. Ike Fullwood, the District’s police chief when a crack epidemic fueled record numbers of murders, said the transformation that Mr. Brown brought about in his own life — teaching himself the guitar while in prison — made him an important role model, particularly to young people who saw themselves trapped in bleak neighborhoods.

So it meant something to hear Mr. Brown sing about going to school or not breaking the law. He refused to play at clubs where violence had occurred. If problems did break out, Mr. Brown would stop the music, refuse to play and even insist that any “young ’uns” who had gotten into beefs hug each other before the music would resume. Always accessible, he would visit schools, churches and recreation centers to share his music and life lessons.

Chuck Brown certainly gave D.C. its own sound. He also helped it discover its soul.

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