Chuck Brown's Long Dance

At 73, go-go legend Chuck Brown hasn't lost a beat.
By Robin Rose Parker
Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chuck Brown is on his way to work. He's not performing his beloved go-go music today, but his duties are a kind of extension of his regular gig. In the spring of 2008, Brown is among the local celebrities who have agreed to visit D.C. schools and deliver pep talks for students to do their best on upcoming tests. The hope is that the message will be more persuasive coming from someone the teenagers admire.

Just outside the hall at D.C.'s H.D. Woodson Senior High School, two female security guards are standing at their posts. The women wear wide, radiant smiles and continually steal peeks from behind the school's yellow doors with eager anticipation of the arrival of D.C's local legend.

"I ain't never seen him before," says one of the guards. Her spiral curls bounce around her ears.

"You've seen him on TV," her taller co-worker says.

"Only on the Lottery Board," she answers, by which she means his TV spot for the D.C. Lottery. "Is he gonna play his guitar? I wanna dance."

"She's been living here 30 years and ain't never seen Chuck," her co-worker says, shaking her head.

Right on time, Brown drives his silver Mercedes coupe into the parking lot. The Woodson welcoming committee begins to grow with word that "Chuck is here." Within moments Brown, his wife, Jocelyn (who graduated from Woodson in 1980), their son Wiley and grandson Derrick emerge from the car. Brown is dressed in a brown suit with a matching chocolate-colored hat and gold-tipped boots. He ambles down the sidewalk with a slightly pigeon-toed gait.

"Hey, ladies," Brown says as he approaches the guards.

"You a legend, Chuck," the shorter guard says excitedly. "Can I get a picture with you later?"

Brown agrees and continues toward the small, waiting crowd as he offers handshakes and small talk; he flashes the gold-toothed grin that is as much a part of his image as his ever-present hat. The teachers, administrators and maintenance crew at the school are the usual Chuck Brown fans: 30- to 40-something African Americans. Many of them have been followers since Brown broke out with his 1979 song, "Bustin' Loose" -- decades before his high school audience was born.

A representative from D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's office introduces him, and Brown walks into the auditorium occupied by 10th-graders, who fill about a third of the hall. Gasps of astonishment ring out as Brown, who is known as the "Godfather of Go-Go," enters the room. Many of the students are laughing and smiling, and most seem to recognize Brown.

Brown frequently shows up at events with family members in tow, and as he is handed a microphone, his wife demurely glides into a front row seat, while Wiley and Derrick flank him.

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