Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Washington, D.C.'s Go Go Music

Written by Azizi Powell

Among African Americans in the 1970s to date, Washington, D.C.'s nickname was "Chocolate City". D.C. was given that name because so many Black folks lived there. Back in 1970, that city peaked at 71 percent Black. However, "Washington’s black population slipped below 50 percent this year [2011], possibly in February, about 51 years after it gained a majority, according to an estimate by William Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution… It will be interesting to see how long D.C. retains the "Chocolate City" nickname in the face of its significantly changing demographics.

Many online articles & blog comments cite the influx of White people from the suburbs back to the city and the resulting cost of property, and the rise of property taxes due to gentrification as the reasons for Washington, D.C.'s decreased Black population. For those interested in that subject, in addition to the article linked above, I highly recommend reading
"On The Rapid Gentrification of DC" by Latoya Peterson, July 19, 2011

Rather than looking at the causes & consequences of D. C.'s gentrification, this post focuses on "Go Go music" - a sub-genre of African American music that originated in predominately Black Washington D.C. and still remains centered in Washington, D.C. area.

From The Beat!
Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C. by Kip Lornell
and Charles C. Stephenson, Jr:

The Beat! was the first book to explore the musical, social, and cultural phenomenon of go-go music. In this new edition, updated by a substantial chapter on the current scene, authors Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson, Jr., place go-go within black popular music made since the middle 1970s--a period during which hip-hop has predominated. This styling reflects the District's African American heritage. Its super-charged drumming and vocal combinations of hip-hop, funk, and soul evolved and still thrive on the streets of Washington, D.C., and in neighboring Prince George's County, making it the most geographically compact form of popular music.

Go-go--the only musical form indigenous to Washington, D.C.--features a highly syncopated, nonstop beat and vocals that are spoken as well as sung. The book chronicles its development and ongoing popularity, focusing on many of its key figures and institutions, including established acts such as Chuck Brown (the Godfather of Go-Go), Experience Unlimited, Rare Essence, and Trouble Funk...

Go-go is a blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and early hip-hop, with a focus on lo-fi percussion instruments and funk-style jamming in place of dance tracks, although some sampling is used. As such, it is primarily a dance hall music with an emphasis on live audience call and response. Go-go rhythms are also incorporated into street percussion...

There is generally little familiarity with go-go music outside of the D.C. Metro area, which includes the District of Columbia and the city's outlying Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs. Consequently, the relatively little commercial success (by industry standards) go-go bands have enjoyed has largely been a product of the genre's following in this geographic region. Nevertheless, the style continues to evolve.

As to the source of the name "Go Go", the authors of that Wikipedia page indicates that "In the mid-1960s, "go-go" was the word for a music club in the local African American community, as in the common phrase at the time "going to a go-go". and are online resources for information about and bookings for go-go bands. go go music. describes itself as a "Directory of Go-Go Music in Washington DC, MD [Maryland] and VA.[Virginia]". It's my belief that go-go music strongly influenced the creation of two other African American performance styles in that same area, and in a contiguous area during that same mid 1970s period. Those two performance styles are "Stomp and Shake" cheerleading (whose beginnings I've traced to the Virginia and North Carolina areas) and "foot stomping cheers" (whose earliest documented recording is of Washington D.C. schoolgirls in 1976). Both Stomp and Shake cheerleading and foot stomping cheers owe a lot of their performance styles to the African American art of university based Black Greek lettered fraternity & sorority steppin. Numerous predominately Black universities are found in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina areas. And my recollections as a member of a Black Greek lettered sorority and a fan of step shows is that the mid 1970s & early 1980s was when step shows first became prominent on Black campuses and in Black communities. I don't think that it's a coincidence that all of these Black performances arts originated or grew in influence in the same geographical areas and at the same time as go go music. It seems to me that scholarly research of any of the above mentioned African American performance arts should investigate the likely influence of go-go music on the creation & the development of those heavily percussive, crowd participation encouraging art forms.

Here are two YouTube examples of Go Go music:

Chuck Brown And The Soul Searchers ‎– Bustin' Loose 1979

TT V-rus 1138, Published on Jun 25, 2016
The video entitled "CHUCK BROWN "GOGO SWING,MIDNIGHT SUN,MOODY'S MOOD" @ 930 CLUB" which was initially showcased here is no longer available. Here are three comments from this video's viewer comment thread:

I live in delaware an area that has no idea what go-go music is. Still after all these yrs it's makes me dance..DC/VA stand up for chuck! BET, VH-1, why isn't this getting an award???.
-denji31; 2011

@denji31 Chuck has had many awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and things like that. He even has a street named after him on near GA ave in DC. He has gotten tons of recognition.
-CALICOTV301 ; 2011

-XMAN4708; 2011


Rare Essence Chocolate City Reunion (2011) #2

Uploaded by PyChip on Jul 8, 2011

Rare Essence plays at The Chocolate City Reunion

Here's a comment from that video's viewer comment thread:

GO-GO IS STILL ALIVE!!!!!!!!!! Horn Section, Frontline Dance moves, Crowd participation, & most importantly CONGOS!!!! The only thing missing is the $10-$15 shows that went a hour & half per set!

(If you were BORN anywhere in the 90's you probrably dont understand what I'm talking about)
-Draydayz ; 2011

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1 comment:

  1. I lived in Pennsylvania in the 1970s when Go Go music first started. but I didn't learn about that music until I visited friends in D.C/Maryland area in the late 1990s. And from what I've read a lot of other African Americans from that era and since don't know about go go music-at least by that name.

    It's weird how go go music was/is so influential but isn't really well known as a music genre or subgenre.