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Go Go-Go

The black church plus blues plus funk meant go-go music in 1970s Washington DC.  We’ll get the soundtrack and story of a tough time.

 In this Jan. 18, 2010 file photo, master of ceremonies Chuck Brown speaks during a program to celebrate the legacy of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington. Brown, who styled a unique brand of funk music as a singer, guitarist and songwriter known as the "godfather of go-go," died Wednesday, May 16, 2012 after suffering from pneumonia. He was 75. (AP)

In this Jan. 18, 2010 file photo, master of ceremonies Chuck Brown speaks during a program to celebrate the legacy of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington. Brown, who styled a unique brand of funk music as a singer, guitarist and songwriter known as the “godfather of go-go,” died Wednesday, May 16, 2012 after suffering from pneumonia. He was 75. (AP)

The 1970s and ‘80s were tough times in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.  Old economics and certainties were falling away.  Segregation and desegregation were in major flux.  And the capital, not so far from the gleaming monuments and domes, was a very self-consciously black city.  African-American.  The “Chocolate City,” as the DJs had it.

And the soundtrack was Washington’s own “go-go” music.  It was power and freedom and funk and conga drums.  Call and response.

This hour, On Point:  go-go, and the life of the Chocolate City.

-Tom Ashbrook


Natalie Hopkinson, contributing editor for The Root and author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City.

Nico Hobson, go-go historian and archivist and co-owner of gogoradio.com.

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post “Summertime, with its steamy air and sinuous rhythms, cries out for a soundtrack — and whether it’s rap or go-go, R&B or hip-hop, the music is more than likely to have African American roots. Two recent books about black culture are excellent guides to the sounds booming from the club, the car or the headphones.”

New York Times “In the mid-1970s, with disco luring dancers away from live bands, Mr. Brown drew on James Brown’s funk, Latin rhythms and the crowd-pleasing good humor of Cab Calloway-era big bands to create go-go.”


Hopkinson describes her introduction to the world of go-go music and what she hopes readers will gain from reading “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City”

GO-GO LIVE: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City.

Chuck Brown preforms Wind Me Up.

Excerpt: Go-Go-Live


“Bustin’ Loose” by Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers

“Chocolate City” by Parliament

“It Don’t Mean A Thing” (LIVE) by Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers

“Run Joe” by Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers

“One on One” by Rare Essence

“Cat in the Hat” by Little Benny and the Masters

“Good to Go” by Trouble Funk

“Let Me Clear My Throat” by D. J. Kool

“Diamond in the Black” by Suttle Thoughts

“Pretty Girls” by Wale

“Keep It Gangsta” by Backyard Band

“U Go” by TCB aka The Bounce Beat Kingz

“Welcome to DC” by Mambo Sauce


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  • TinaWrites

    Compare this first song you played during your introduction with a song NPR reported on just an hour ago during the News, a song by Taylor Swift.  The Swift piece isn’t even music  – it’s “manufacture”!  Can’t people hear the difference?  Why is Pop music so “popular”, when it should just be left out with the garbage?  

    • TinaWrites

      I KNOW that my comment isn’t really related to the much larger topic, but it COULD be brought into the bigger issue by someone!  Help with that?!  

  • Rex Henry

    Alexandria, Virginia’s (DC Suburb) VaCo (Virginia Coalition) brought back the Go-Go as part of their sound with three man percussion.

    2 minutes into this clip they jam out:

  • Noah Schaffer

    Thanks for the great show. Any thoughts from your guests on why live instruments are still a part of go-go even as they’ve disappeared from other urban music styles?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/GNKD4LJH23IX2MYRYEIM3QAZNA Bertie Wooster

    In 1985 I was working at the Commerce Dept.  One late spring day, I went out to get lunch at the Press Building shops and ran smack into a gig by Redd’s and the Boys at Freedom Plaza backed by a bunch of young kids in a percussion band playing improvised instruments: they called themself the “Junk Band.”  To make a long story short, I went in and got my lunch and sat out in Pershing Park and just listened.  For a white man –  sitting just on the outside – I felt I got a front row seat to seeing what the it was all about and understood the difference between “the city” and “The District.”   Ironically, that location is across Penn. from The District Building and the new Reagan Commerce center: if nothing else shows the central conflict in Washington and it’s history, I don’t know what it is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Frederick-Wrigley/100000326761974 Frederick Wrigley

    I am a 64 year old man who still does a weekly college radio show, and Trouble Funk is definitely part of my playlist. Like reggae, go-go never became mainstream, but like the best reggae, go-go music draws a line in the sand, and then says, with a big wide grin, “Come on over!”

  • Joy Fortune

    Can your guest talk about when Go-Go goes main stream. in particular a D.c. Go Go band called E U did ” Doing the Butt” featured on Spike Lee’s School Daze they then tried to go main stream with “Taste of Your Love” and were not as successful as they were in D.C.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LLUDQEPEWBELKMZRPLFEA7QWUM Cary

    I’m a 61 yr old white lady (born in DC, raised in Maryland) whose preferred music genre is British Invasion, and I don’t like hip-hop (which to me is not “music”, just a monotonic beat w/ lyrics). I was invited to a Chuck Brown show in Annapolis a couple years ago by a friend of the same ilk. We sat/stood right in front and participated fully in the show, esp the call & reponse. Enjoyed it thoroughly and had a great time. Afterwards, we got a message that Chuck “wanted to meet the 2 white girls in the front who were into the show”. We were allowed backstage to meet Mr. Brown and his wife, and he was very gracious to us. It was a wonderful experience. Go-go is different from rap, in that the beat, while repetitive, is syncopated and interesting and there is actual music…there was a whole band with a horn section, and the lyrics were more positive than what I’ve generally heard in rap/hip hop. I was greatly saddened at the news of his passing. I enjoyed your program on Chuck Brown yesterday. Thank you.      Cary Caldwell

  • maryjan

    I was a high school student in Silver Spring, MD in the 60s. Twice my friend and I lied to our parents that we were going to our Catholic teen club and instead drove into the district and went to the Howard. We loved the music and the energy and we felt very comfortable there. Teen club was a great place for meeting high school boys, but the Howard was a great place for music! When we told friends that we went to the Howard, they asked us if we were afraid. We were a little nervous about going the first time, but once there we had no reason to feel afraid. We were treated well and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Of course, we had to leave early to get back home at the same time we would have from teen club!
    Although, I went to enjoy the music, what I learned was that all the prejudiced nonsense I had heard about black people being violent, scary, etc was just that – nonsense! A few years later, as a college student in Boston, I had the same experience. Never had a reason to be afraid in Roxbury or Dorchester. People really are people and music is a great unifier. 
    I look back with fondness on the Howard. Wish I hadn’t got caught the second time….I would have gone many more times!

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