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.
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.
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)