By Nia Hightower, DC Music Live
In the Brown family, when Aug. 22 rolled around, so did numerous musical celebrations and cakes that lined the table in honor of its beloved patriarch – Chuck Brown.
“He’d have about five to fifteen cakes sent to him to celebrate his birthday,” says Nekos Brown, son of the late go-go legend.
There would be cakes in the shape of guitars, guitar cases, cakes decorated with his photo or album covers. The son recalls one cake shaped like the pair of signature shades his father used to wear.
“It would be like a cake competition to see who sent the best birthday cake,” he says.
Yesterday marked the first birthday the family has spent without its beloved father and husband since his passing on May 16. Brown would have been 76.
CONTINUING THE CELEBRATIONS
While the day served as a reminder that Brown was no longer around, it also served as a reminder that his spirit and legacy lives on musically and in the hearts of the people’s lives he touched.
“The day [was] … filled with a lot of love,” Nekos Brown says.
That August morning, members of Chuck Brown’s family – wife Jocelyn Brown, sons Nekos and Wiley Brown and daughter K.K. Brown – stood next to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray as he declared it Chuck Brown Day. He also announced plans for the city to dedicate a portion of Langdon Park, located in Northeast D.C., as Chuck Brown Memorial Park.
“I think the park is something really good for the city,” says K.K. Brown, who performed alongside her father with the Chuck Brown Band for about the last decade. “Something that’s really colorful and musical for the kids and families, that’s what my dad would have liked.”
There are also plans to renovate the amphitheater in the park in hopes that it will further cultivate music in the nation’s capital. One of the proposed amphitheater renderings also shows a statue perched near the amphitheater.
“To one day see my father’s statue in the park will be an amazing thing considering where our family has come from,” Nekos Brown says.
TURNING TO A LIFE MUSIC
The late musician grew up in North Carolina the son of a housekeeper with his siblings before they all moved to Washington when Brown was 8. They lived in poverty, but Brown took up odd jobs to make ends meet. His teen years became peppered with petty crimes until an incident in the 1950s, when he shot a man in what he said was self-defense.
Brown was convicted of aggravated assault, then later murder after the victim died in the hospital.
He served eight years at the Lorton Correctional Complex, where he traded cartons of cigarettes for another inmate’s guitar.
The rest is history.
Once he was released from prison, Brown turned to a life of music, creating hits such as “Bustin’ Loose,” with the Soul Searchers, “Go-Go Swing,” Grammy-nominated “Love” with Jill Scott and a slew of albums that paved the way for the evolving genre of go-go.
The Brown family created the Chuck Brown Foundation after his passing with a mission of contributing to causes the musician felt passionately about – education, homelessness and re-entry programs for those who have been incarcerated.
MISSING HIS PRESENCE
Both K.K. and Nekos Brown say they miss their father’s presence in different ways.
“He’d come in just about any room, and you’d know it,” says Nekos Brown. “You couldn’t be sad around him. He lived with the philosophy that as long as you were breathing, you were all right.”
For K.K. Brown, being on stage with the band isn’t the same.
“I used to look over to him for my answers to everything, literally,” she says. “I miss trying to impress him.”
She and the band have continued to perform together at numerous summer events that were originally booked for her father, including the DC Jazz Festival show at The Hamilton and the Summer Spirit Music Festival at the Merriwether Post Pavillion.
The Chuck Brown Band will continue performances for the rest of the year as a part of The Howard Theatre’s Wind Me Up Chuck! Mondays, which will feature the band and various artists influenced by the go-go master.
“It’s really fitting because every time he’d tell a story it would have The Howard in it,” his daughter says.
When she’s not performing in the band, she’s in and out of the studio working on her solo rap project with a blend of rock hip-hop and, of course, go-go.
“I just want to make sure I do everything he taught me.”