Thousands of Washingtonians gathered in the heart of the city to sing, dance and say farewell to D.C.’s favorite son, Chuck “The Godfather of Go-Go” Brown.
During a more than three-and-a-half-hour Baptist “home going” at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, local politicians, go-go musicians, celebrities, friends and family feted the late musician, whose Latin-tinged take on funk and soul launched the musical genre known as go-go that would come to define the character of what D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) called “hometown D.C.”
Radio legend Donnie Simpson, master of ceremonies for the raucus event, praised Brown. “Chuck was always about D.C. … His music was for the world, but they had to come get it,” he pronounced to loud applause.
Mayor Vincent Gray (D), whose term has been marred by scandals, vowed to name one of the city’s many parks after Brown, saying he would pick a place “just like Chuck.”
“A place where there’s action, a place where there’s people, a place where there’s traffic, where there’s the sound of the city … [and] a place for Joe to run,” Gray said, referencing one of Brown’s classics, “Run Joe.”
Likewise, Norton hailed Brown, saying she came to the service to “praise Chuck Brown for what he gave to American music, and especially what his music gave to Washington, D.C.”
Norton also touched on his influence in helping to undermine the stereotype of Washington as a federal city with no culture.
The “overwhelming presence of official Washington often smothered the notion of hometown Washington … and then came the Godfather,” Norton said, telling the enthusiastic crowd, “Chuck Brown broke free the image of hometown D.C. from the image of a government town that couldn’t keep a beat.”
Comedian Mike Epps used the service to chide Councilmember Marion Barry – whom Simpson had earlier dubbed “mayor for life.”
Noting that Brown had once caught him smoking a “cigarette” before a show, Epps said he asked him where he could get some more. “And he said, ‘Oh man, lemme call Marion Barry,’” Epps deadpanned.
Brown, who died May 16 at age 75, had an influence on Washington unlike anything in modern American culture. Like Louis Armstrong in New Orleans, Brown’s music and breezy, affable personality cast a long shadow over the city for four decades, helping to provide hope for many of the city’s poorest citizens, particularly during the crack epidemic of the 1980s.
Fittingly, the service was an upbeat celebration of the man’s life – and of Brown’s insatiable love to have a party. As the home going ended, the service transformed into an old-school go-go as the Chuck Brown Band took the stage along with his daughter KK and local go-go legends DJ Kool, Sugar Bear, Big Tony and James Funk.
As the band worked through a medley of classic Brown tunes, including “Bustin’ Loose,” “Need Some Money,” Run Joe” and “Chuck Baby Don’t Give a What,” mourners rose to their feet, climbed up on chairs and flooded the aisles to dance and sing.
Even the politicians on stage got in on the act. While Gray was a painful reminder of Pappy O’Daniel from “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” Norton showed that while she’s two weeks shy of her 75th birthday, she can still shake her groove thing with the best of them.
As Brown would say, “Sho’ ya right.”