Chuck Brown, godfather of Go-Go music, dies at 75

Chuck Brown performing at the 20th St. Lucia Jazz Festival, May 8, 2011. REUTERS/Andrea De Silva.

The artist widely credited with founding the Go-Go music genre died today. Chuck Brown was 75.

Like many punk teens growing up in Virginia in the eighties, I discovered this DC-rooted genre of black American music by accident—a go-go band opened up for a hardcore group I'd traveled from Richmond to DC to see. But it just took once to fall under the spell of that heavy, funky beat.

Bands like Trouble Funk and E.U. were among the go-go acts to achieve fame beyond DC, but Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers started it all.

An obituary in his hometown paper is here. Clinton Yates blogs at the Washington Post:

Chuck Brown, in short, was everything there was to love about music in D.C. He made his mark as the Godfather of Go-Go with 'Bustin Loose' before I was born and was basically rocking up until his health no longer allowed him to. When news of his hospitalization hit a few weeks ago, I remember telling a colleague that if they drove his body through the streets of D.C., it would be a spectacle similar to a presidential inauguration. Now, I wish I'd never spoke it.

It's impossible to really compare Chuck Brown to anyone because he had no equal on D.C.'s music scene. Surely, you could recall greats like Duke Ellington and Marvin Gaye, but Chuck embodied the people the way no artist ever has, or likely will ever be able to.

Wall Street Journal music critic Jim Fusilli tweeted last month that “Talking to [Chuck] in DC is like talking to Elvis in Memphis." If you don't know anything about Brown, that should tell you everything.

Brown died today at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, MD, where he had been under treatment for pneumonia since April 18. The cause of death, according to local news reports: multiorgan failure due to sepsis.

In the embed below, Boing Boing pal Jesse Thorn speaks with Brown on a "Sound of Young America" podcast segment, "The Song That Changed My Life."

NPR ran a "tiny desk concert" with Brown here, in 2010. MP3 here.

From 2011, two more features on Brown worth checking out, if you're unfamiliar with his legacy: CNN, PBS.

Amazon links to Brown's music: Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, and Chuck Brown, solo.

There is an extensive YouTube playlist of live Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers video clips here, including rare video of performances in the late 1980s.

Update: The Washington Post has a beautiful piece capturing the impact of his death on DC, here.

(thanks, Jesse Thorn)


  1. I grew up in Anacostia in the late ’70s and early ’80s.  I am no longer in DC, and haven’t been for all my adult life.  Hearing this news is sad as hell.  If I were to come back to a DC without a living Chuck Brown, it wouldn’t be the same.

    “Whatever you do, big or small, do it well, or don’t do it at all. Sho ya right.”

  2. I went to George Washington University in the late 90s, and the culture there is pretty disconnected from the city of Washington itself (not the federal world, but the actual place where people actually live). We had a shuttle service that would run around campus at night, though, and it was a sure bet that the drivers would blast the hell out of whatever go-go show was on the radio. As soon as I heard it, I fell in love. I’ve always been grateful to those drivers for inadvertently exposing us kids who thought D.C. stopped at the Capitol and Georgetown to a taste of what makes the District such a good place. Rest well, Chuck.

  3. I don’t know why, but this has hit me harder than I would have expected. Maybe, like others posting here, having grown up in the DC area I feel a special connection to Go-Go Music. It’s always felt like I’m in on some sort of secret that somehow never got out nor played out. I have fond memories of listening to Chuck, Rare Essence, and the Huckabucks late night on PGC. Good memories. RIP Chuck!

  4. Go Go  music as an underground force was soon co-opted by mega artists such as Prince. If anyone created Go Go, it was superlative session drummer Bernard Purdie with his trademark snare snaps and fills in the 60s and 1970s. I’m proud to say I saw Chuck Brown just passed his prime. He had the crowd dancing

  5. I lived in DC for a while too and remember the Go-go scene too so when I think of Go-go, I have to think of Chuck Brown.  Memories . . . 

  6. Xeni, I grew up in NoVa and lived on a steady diet of Chuck Brown, E.U., Bad Brains and All Mighty Senators.  I had heard that he was in Johns Hopkins (I live outside Baltimore now), but never really wanted to believe he was that sick.  Etta James, Don Cornelius, Earl Scruggs, Levon Helm, MCA and now Chuck Brown. . .this year is being really hard on my world of music.  So long Chuck, I’ll always admire you for your talent, your sound, and your devotion to the fans.

  7. I grew up in Annapolis in the 80s, and it seems that the Go-Go beat never ended (really, never) at my high school. I didn’t appreciate it until moving away, and realizing I missed the sound.  And nobody anywhere else I lived had any idea what I was talking about!

    A few years back, I went home for the holidays, and Chuck was playing a show in town. I got the LAST TICKET by pure chance, and got a shout-out at the show (I’d come back all the way from San Francisco). I’m glad I got to see him, and talk briefly with him after the show. By that point, seeing Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers had been on my “to-do” list for years.  Was it the best concert I’d ever been to? No. But it was one of the most enjoyable, and memorable. 

    Here’s hoping Chuck is winding ’em up, up in heaven.

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