What It Takes

Chuck Brown

Moving from point A to point B with Chuck Brown can be a challenge. Outside a Largo office building recently, a lawyer wanted to shake his hand. A delivery man chatted him up about his new record. A woman told him about how she used to get punished by her mother for sneaking out to see his shows.

"Her mother was probably in the place, too!" Brown said, laughing. "I love the fans. I love talking to them. A lot of people want to take pictures with me. I appreciate that. There once was a time when the only people who wanted take my picture was the police. Now, the police want to take pictures with me, too ... I try to always take time for my fans."

As the founder and designated godfather of go-go, the sound indigenous to Washington that fuses R&B, funk and hip-hop with rollicking call-and-response lyrics and thunderous percussion, Brown has served for decades as the genre's international ambassador.

Forty-five years after he first hit the D.C. nightclub scene, he's still a popular draw. His annual birthday celebration at the famed 9:30 Club on V Street is a perennial favorite concert event. He sells out most of his shows.

He has recorded more than 20 albums and sold 1.5 million copies since his first, "We the People," hit record stores in 1971. His biggest album to date was the classic "Bustin' Loose" in 1978, which went gold and featured the title song that made Brown famous.

Two weeks ago, Brown's latest CD "We Got This," was released. The first single, "Love," featuring Jill Scott, is receiving wide airplay locally.

To promote the record, Brown, 74, traveled to New York City last week to play along with the Roots, the house band on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." He played a free concert that was simulcast on WKYS at Woodrow Wilson Plaza at the Ronald Reagan Building in the District.

But the event that he's most looking forward to is scheduled to take place on Saturday, when Fairmont Heights, the tiny hamlet in Prince George's County where he lived for much of his childhood, will host Chuck Brown Day.

Brown was born in Gaston, N.C., but moved to Fairmont Heights at age 6 when his mother and stepfather, Richard Walton, came north looking for better economic opportunities.

"My father, Albert Moody, died when I was 8 months old. He had pneumonia and there was no money for doctors and medicine," Brown said. "So my mother used to work as a live-in maid to give us a place to live until she met my stepfather, who worked in the fields, in sawmills and did construction work ....We lived in a lot of shacks around Richmond when he worked for the railroad. I used to love to watch the trains go by. I would stand in the field waving and a man on the red caboose would throw me a bag of food every day -- potatoes, chicken, biscuits."

Brown's mother was an accomplished singer and accordion and harmonica player.

"Mama used to bring me to the church and other people's homes to stand up and sing," he said. "They used to say, 'That little boy can sing. He's going to be something someday.' They used to take up collections for us."

After they moved north, Brown played piano in church until he left home at 13 and "started getting in trouble." The temptations of the streets eventually landed him at the now-defunct Lorton prison, when he was in his early 20s.

"That's how I really got my life together," he said. "I got my high school diploma and learned that I was talented and became very serious about music. There was a dude down there, Bunny, who made guitars. I paid him five cartons of cigarettes to make me a guitar and I started playing it."

After Lorton, Brown set out on his own education, this time behind the guitar. Unable to play clubs because his probation prohibited him from appearing in places where alcohol was served, he played house parties. During the week, he worked various jobs, from cashiering to construction.

"The best job I ever had was a bricklayer," he said. "In those days, the wages were $5.50 an hour. That was a lot of money. It was very hard work, but it was enjoyable because it was artistic work.

"I used to love to take my wife and kids around the places where I worked to show them some of the pretty buildings I helped build. You know the White Oak Towers in Silver Spring? I helped build those. I helped build a lot of the buildings in downtown Bethesda."

Meanwhile, Brown had started to make a name for himself around Washington as an entertainer. He was invited to play with a band called Los Latinos. He later formed the Earls of Rhythm. He played the Ebony Inn in Capitoal Heights and the Red Carpet Lounge in the District, which in its heyday hosted acts such as Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington.

In 1966, he formed the Soul Searchers band. It was during those days that Brown created go-go. "There were go-go dancers, go-go clubs, but no go-go music," Brown said. "So I created it."

Despite traveling around the world, "I break my neck to get back here," he said. "I am blessed that this is what I have been given the opportunity to do."


Avis Thomas-Lester

 |  October 6, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  |  Category:  success stories Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Chuck baby we love ya so much!

Posted by: mstov | October 7, 2010 7:45 PM
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Posted by: POTLHOTD | October 7, 2010 2:54 PM
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Posted by: rankcon

>Go-Go music is garbage. Now one plays or listens to this crap outside of D.C.<

So why bother reading the article and posting if you dont like it. Maybe you are lacking attention in your life? I dont like folk music. So when there is a story about a folk musician i dont bother reading or posting that I dont like it. Unless i wanted to be noticed.

Posted by: ged0386 | October 7, 2010 1:30 PM
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Posted by: rankcon
Go-Go Music? International? ROTFLMAO. Good one.

Japan, Germany, Great Britain ... not mainstream international but yes international
...still small but loyal and growing. Sorry you don't like the genre but we have fun with it.

Posted by: lrossmusic | October 7, 2010 12:42 PM
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Go-Go Music? International? ROTFLMAO. Good one.

Posted by: rankcon | October 7, 2010 11:36 AM
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Posted by: rankcon

>Go-Go music is garbage. Now one plays or listens to this crap outside of D.C.<

Come on rankon ... just because you don't like it you shouldn't call it crap ... besides you are wrong ... Go-Go like jazz is international although not mainstream ...YET !

Posted by: lrossmusic | October 7, 2010 11:15 AM
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Go-Go music is garbage. Now one plays or listens to this crap outside of D.C.

Posted by: rankcon | October 7, 2010 10:10 AM
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The police man is on the premises y'all, what is he doing on here...

Posted by: password11 | October 7, 2010 9:36 AM
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