The Madeleine Brand Show for May 17, 2012

Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go, dies at the age of 75

7th Annual Roots Jam Session Hosted By Jimmy Fallon - Red Carpet

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Chuck Brown attends the 7th Annual Roots Jam Session hosted by Jimmy Fallon at The Music Box on February 12, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go, died yesterday at the age of 75. His music was distinctly from Washington D.C., and when Madeleine worked at NPR in Washington, she profiled him for NPR's Morning Edition on June 29, 2001.

It's 1 a.m. Saturday night - or Sunday morning - outside a Washington, D.C., club called the D.C. Tunnel. A white stretch limo and a black Humvee idle out front. Men and women, mostly in their 20s, wait in line to be checked by security, twice.

One woman wears a red rubber dress; one man sports head-to-toe cheetah and a '70s afro wig. They're all here to see Chuck Brown, the 67-year-old godfather of a homegrown musical phenomenon called go-go.

Elsewhere, "go-go" may conjure retro visions of vinyl-boot-wearing women dancing in cages. But in the nation's capital, go-go means the musical hybrid Brown created 25 years ago. It's "slower and funkier" than disco, yet relentlessly beat-driven; flavored with congos and cowbells, and overlaid with the call-and-response of Brown's gospel-church youth.

Unlike rap or hip-hop, go-go hasn't moved outside the neighborhoods where it was born. Aside from a couple of short-lived hits in the 1980s, go-go hasn't gone mainstream, it hasn't gone national - it has barely crossed over to next-door Virginia and Maryland.

But now, with a new live record out, Chuck Brown hopes for enough airplay to finally put go-go on the map.

Charles Stephenson, co-author of a new book on go-go, suspects it hasn't gone national because "you really have to experience it in order to fully appreciate it"; and because it lacks the hooks and formats of most radio-playlist staples.

As NPR's Madeleine Brand observes after a night at D.C. Tunnel, "There aren't any three-minute go-go songs - just the opposite. Go-go's appeal is that it never ends; it just keeps going.…"


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