Chuck Brown

Many places have a sound of their own. New Orleans has Jazz. Memphis has the blues. Detroit has Motown. The nation’s capital, Washington DC, has its own very unique sound that natives are able to “crank” to, that is Go-Go. The creator of that of that sound is none other than Chuck Brown, “The Godfather of Go-Go”.

Artist History

Charles Louis Brown, also known as Chuck Brown, was born on August 22, 1936 in Gaston, North Carolina.  Chuck Brown’s mother, Lyla Brown, was a housekeeper and his father, and his father, Albert Louis Moody was a United States Marine. Chuck Brown’s father was not very present in his life, as a result Brown lived a very rough life. When he was six, Chuck Brown moved to Washington DC. At the young age of 15, he started living on the streets. A few years later, Brown was convicted of murder and served eight years in Lorton Correctional Facility.  While serving his time, Brown found himself trading his cigarettes for  guitar time, which is where his love for music began. When he completed his sentence he moved back to DC and he began to do different jobs to make money. Soon after, he started performing at parties in the DC area but because of his arrest and he was not allowed to perform at parties where liquor was being served.

Professional Career

“The Godfather of Go Go,” Chuck Brown is the creator of Go-Go music, a genre deeply rooted in funk and soul that he developed in the early 70’s , and a form of expressive culture to originate in the District of Columbia. While searching for a sound to call his own in the 1960s, Chuck was deeply inspired by artists like James Brown.  He latched onto the Latin percussion groove from the band he played with at the time, Los Latinos. Combining this with his roots, his love of blues, jazz, gospel, soul, and African rhythms, Chuck began to develop his own unique sound. His first hit was “We the People” on the debut album of the same name in 1972. Next came the album Salt of the Earth, with the hit “Blow Your Whistle”, and one of the most sampled beats of all time from “Ashley’s Roach Clip”. In 1978, the Soul Searchers became Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, and Chuck’s original composition “Bustin’ Loose” took the #1 spot in Billboard, on MCA Records. The song was used in Grammy winner Nelly’s 2002 hit “Hot in Herre”. In 2011, he earned his first Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals for “Love” from the album We Got This with Jill Scott and Marcus Miller.  Brown was celebrated by the National Symphony Orchestra on September 4, 2011, when the NSO paid tribute to the Washington Music Labor Day Legends concert, celebrating Brown’s music with a free concert on the Capitol’s West Lawn.

Influence

It was the sound of James Brown and other artists like him that influenced Chuck Brown. Over 30 years ago, Chuck Brown developed and popularized the Go-Go sound and it continues to have an impact today in the Washington DC area. If it wasn’t for Chuck Brown and what he did to create this unique sound for the area, Go-Go bands like Rare Essence, Suttle Thoughts, Junk Yard Band, and Backyard Band would not be here.

Death & Legacy

On May 16, 2012, at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital, Brown died at the age of 75 of organ failure, including heart failure. He had postponed and cancelled shows several weeks prior to his death due to hospitalization for pneumonia. Brown is called the “Godfather of Go-Go” and in Washington, D.C., he was considered a local legend. A local promoter, Darryl Brooks, said “He was a symbol of D.C. manhood, back in the day because of the authority that he spoke with. He just spoke from a perspective that black men could understand.” Andre Johnson, leader of the Rare Essence go-go band, said that Chuck Brown “influenced generations of people—not just one—a few generations of musicians around here.” On August 22nd, 2014, Chuck Brown Memorial Park opened. The Chuck Brown Band holds the light and keeps the beat and legacy alive. Chuck Brown still holds the title as the creator and “Godfather of Go-Go” and his legacy will continue to live through Go-Go music.

Discography

Studio albums 

We the People (1972)

Salt of the Earth (1974)

Bustin’ Loose (1979)

Funk Express (1980)

We Need Some Money (1984)

Hah Man (1994)

The Other Side (1995)

Go-Go & Gumbo, Satchmo N Soul (1997)

Timeless (1998)

The Spirit of Christmas (1999)

We’re About the Business (2007)

We Got This (2010)

Beautiful Life (2014)

  

Live albums 

Go Go Swing Live (1986)

Any Other Way to Go? (1987)

Live ’87 – D.C. Bumpin’ Y’all (1987)

90’s Goin’ Hard (1991)

This Is a Journey…Into Time (1993)

Your Game…Live at the 9:30 Club (2001)

Put Your Hands Up! (2002)

  

Compilation albums 

Go-Go Crankin’ (1985)

Good to Go (1986)

Go Go Live at the Capital Centre (1987)

The Go Go Posse (1988)

Let’s Go Go Christmas (1995)

Greatest Hits (1998)

Best of Chuck Brown (2005)

“Whatever you do big or small, do it well or don’t do it at all”

More Go-Go Music:

Bibliography

Chuck Brown’s Guitar Drove the Musician’s Persuasive “Wind Me Up” Rhythm. (2015, February 24). Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/chuck-browns-guitar-drove-wind-me-up-rhythm-180954351/

Fisher, M. (2012, May 16). …and Chuck Brown Made It Go-Go. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/and-chuck-brownmade-it-go-go/2012/05/02/gIQAVO9HxT_story.html

Richards, C. (2012, May 16). Chuck Brown dies: The ‘Godfather of Go-Go’ was 75. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/chuck-brown-dies-the-godfather-of-go-go-was-75/2012/05/16/gIQAJAfPUU_story.html

Rolling Stone. (2012, May 16). Chuck Brown, Godfather of Go-Go, Dead at 75. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/chuck-brown-godfather-of-go-go-dead-at-75-187034/

Sisario, B. (2012, May 18). Chuck Brown, Godfather of Go-Go, Dies at 75. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/arts/music/chuck-brown-godfather-of-go-go-dies-at-75.html

Written by Sarah Godfrey | Published on October 30, 2. (2019, December 18). The History of Go-Go: A 6 Step Guide to the Essentials. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.washingtonian.com/2019/10/30/history-go-go-6-step-guide-the-essentials/

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