Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go music, died Wednesday. In 2010, he brought his full band to the NPR Music office — and put on a party like no one else.
The name Chuck Brown might not mean a whole lot to people outside the Washington, D.C., area. That would be their loss. In D.C., Brown is widely known, even revered, as the Godfather of Go-Go, a title he's held since the late '70s. Though he started out as a jazz guitarist, Brown invented go-go, a style that incorporates funk, jazz, R&B, hip-hop and dancehall, and has mostly stuck with it ever since.
No one in D.C. can really explain why go-go hasn't traveled beyond the city's environs — we love it here, it's all over our commercial R&B and hip-hop radio stations and, at least when I was in high school, a go-go in a school's gym was the most packed party of the weekend. Chuck Brown is a local hero. A few days after he played our offices, Brown and his whole band played at the Redskins' stadium for the halftime show.
So to have Brown play a corner of our office — not a 90,000-capacity football stadium — was like a dream come true for a lot of NPR staffers. Sweat started pouring immediately, between the 11 musicians (that's congas and a stripped-down kit; saxophone, trumpet and trombone; two backup singers and a rapper) and all the go-go-heads in our building.
It's not like the band was going to slow down, though. It played "Bustin' Loose," which got everyone singing the refrain: "Gimmethebridgenow, gimmethebridgenow." The song has been a hit in D.C. since 1979, so nobody was standing still. The crowd was yelling out requests, too: "Chuck Baby" and "Run Joe," a go-go cover of the Louis Jordan song. Go-go is based on a syncopated beat and the use of congas in addition to drums. A lot of it is call-and-response, some of which was led by Brown (his web address is in fact windmeupchuck.com).
Go-go is mostly about the groove, though, and Chuck Brown just settles in and leans back. He showed up looking like a million bucks in a vest, Dior shades and his signature hat, and then he did what he does best — get the crowd on his side and hand its members something to dance to.
This story originally ran on Sept. 28, 2010.