Tens of thousands of locals flocked to the historic Howard Theatre on Tuesday to pay respects to the “Godfather of go-go” Chuck Brown, a Washington, D.C., figure who helped define the city for more than 40 years. Brown died May 16 after a prolonged bout of pneumonia at the age of 75. His passing sent shock waves throughout the city, spurring impromptu celebrations of his life and music.
A funeral is scheduled for Thursday at the city’s convention center. Throughout the day Tuesday, thousands of well-wishers quietly filed through the theater, where Brown had been a regular featured act until its original closing in 1980. Brown was decked out in his signature hat and black suit, with his guitar laid next to his casket.
After learning to play guitar in prison, Brown emerged on the D.C. music scene in the early 1970s, quickly creating the signature “pocket beat” sound of go-go, incorporating funk, Latin, African and jazz beats with a call-and-response style.
Local celebrities in attendance included the Ali family, owners of Ben’s Chili Bowl, actor and go-go musician Anwan “Big G” Glover and a number of Brown’s contemporaries in creating the go-go sound, including Experience Unlimited’s Sugar Bear, Rare Essence’s James Funk and Trouble Funk’s Big Tony.
The event also drew dozens of Washington-area politicians, including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and councilmembers Marion Barry and Phil Mendelson.
Barry, who was close to Brown and who has — along with the musician — been a public face of the District for decades, praised him as “a genius and a humanitarian who put go-go on the map.”
Likewise, Mendelson praised Brown’s influence on the city and said he hopes his messages of love and happiness will influence a new generation of musicians. “I think the genre will move forward because it’s got a great beat,” Mendelson said.