By Nia Hightower, DC Music Live
When legendary D.C. musician Chuck Brown passed on May 16 at the age of 75, local fans and musicians said they felt a pulse as strong as go-go’s timbales and conga drums skip a beat in the music and Washington communities.
Brown, known as the “Godfather of Go Go” began his musical career in the 1960s, but his first hit came with his 1971 release of We The People. That album was followed by the 1979 go-go classic Bustin’ Loose, which went gold and whose title track hit No. 1 on the charts.
Brown’s discography spans more than four decades with his most recent album, We Got This, released in 2010. He received his first Grammy nomination for Best R&B performance by a Duo or Group with “Love,” a collaboration with singer Jill Scott.
“Many of us know his music it, but it was not until later in life that he got his due,” said Maurice Jackson, history professor at Georgetown University. Jackson and Brown are both fellow Washington D.C. Hall of Fame inductees.
The music and D.C. historian moved to Washington during the 1970s as a college student and said he came of age at the same time just as go go.
“What I most liked about his music was that you’d find jazz and the blues,” said the music scholar. “He would throw in a little bit of Louie Jordan, a bit of Fats Waller and a lot of Louie Armstrong into his beat. He often sang sad lyrics, but his was a happy music – an upbeat music – just the type of music we in [D.C.] needed to hear.”
Cherie Mitchell-Agurs, who had been Brown’s keyboardist for the last 13 years, said there are many things she’ll miss about the man she called “Pops” – his work ethic, ability to rouse a crowd and the love and adoration he was able to garner from fans.
“It was such an honor to work with him. I was a baby in go-go when I started with his band,” said Mitchell-Agurs, who is also founding member of the all-female go-go band Be’la Donna. “He taught us what go-go was.”
See Also: Godfather of Go-Go Chuck Brown Dies
Fans and artists took to social media to express the music community’s loss Wednesday afternoon, as did Brown’s family.
“[They] want to extend their thanks and deepest appreciation to everyone for their concern [and] prayers,” read a tweet from Brown’s official Twitter account.
Brown is survived by his wife, Jocelyn Brown, and sons Wiley Brown and Nekos Brown, and daughters K.K. Brown and Cherita Whiting.
MC Hammer, who sampled Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” on a 1995 album, tweeted “Go-Go’s influence and impact on hip-hop was profound, and we will miss you.”
Mack Tyson, a keyboardist for local “soul garage band” Black Alley, had the opportunity to meet Brown at age 15 when the band he was in opened a show for Brown.
“He sat back watching the opening bands play. You could tell that he really enjoyed hearing the younger cats play,” he recalled.
Tyson described his death as a huge blow to the city and music industry.
“We should continue to celebrate him and what he’s done for D.C. culture and future generations of musicians,” said Tyson, who was first introduced to Chuck Brown at age 7.
“I remember listening to ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing – If It Don’t Have The Go Go Swing’ and thinking ‘whatever this is, I want to play it,’ ” Tyson said. “I didn’t know what instrument I would play or what kind of music it was, but I wanted to play it.”
People close to the late musician knew his passing was a possibility after his hospitalization, said Mitchell-Agurs.
“During rehearsals he was frustrated about his arthritis — his hands getting stiff. He couldn’t hold his guitar the way he wanted,” she recalled. “It seemed to go downhill from there.”
But she didn’t know her last performance with him during an annual ball on March 9 would be her last.
Brown has been called a legend, a pioneer the heart of go-go music but his bandmate recalled how he would still get nervous just before going on stage.
“He’d get nervous because he cared just that much about his fans and how they would enjoy the show,” she said. “And they would, always asking for an encore.”