Chuck Brown, the gravelly voiced bandleader who capitalized on funk’s percussive pulse to create go-go, the genre of music that has soundtracked life in black Washington for more than three decades, died May 16 at the Johns Hopkins University hospital in Baltimore. He was 75.
The death was confirmed by his manager Tom Goldfogle. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Mr. Brown had been hospitalized for pneumonia.
Known as the “Godfather of Go-Go,” the performer, singer, guitarist and songwriter developed his commanding brand of funk in the mid-1970s to compete with the dominance of disco.
Like a DJ blending records, Mr. Brown used nonstop percussion to stitch songs together and keep the crowd on the dance floor, resulting in marathon performances that went deep into the night. Mr. Brown said the style got its name because “the music just goes and goes.”
In addition to being go-go’s principal architect, Mr. Brown remained the genre’s most charismatic figure. On stage, his spirited call-and-response routines became a hallmark of the music, reinforcing a sense of community that allowed the scene to thrive. As go-go became a point of pride for black Washingtonians, Mr. Brown became one of the city’s most recognizable figures.
“No single type of music has been more identified with Washington than go-go, and no one has loomed so large within it as Chuck Brown,” former Washington Post pop music critic Richard Harrington wrote in 2001.
Mr. Brown’s creation, however, failed to have the same impact outside of the Beltway. The birth of go-go doubled as the high watermark of Mr. Brown’s national career. With his group the Soul Searchers, his signature hit “Bustin’ Loose” not only minted the go-go sound, it spent four weeks atop the R&B singles chart in 1978.
“Bustin’ Loose” was “the one record I had so much confidence in,” Mr. Brown told The Post in 2001. “I messed with it for two years, wrote a hundred lines of lyrics and only ended up using two lines. . . . It was the only time in my career that I felt like it’s going to be a hit.”
It was Mr. Brown’s biggest single, but throughout the 1980s “We Need Some Money,” “Go-Go Swing” and “Run Joe” became local anthems, reinforced by radio support and the grueling performance schedule that put Mr. Brown on area stages six nights a week.
While rap music exploded across the country, go-go dominated young black Washington, with groups including Trouble Funk, Rare Essence and Experience Unlimited following in Mr. Brown’s footsteps.
Mr. Brown performed less frequently in his final years but still took the stage regularly. He would often comment on his golden years in rhyme.
“I’m not retired because I’m not tired. I’m still getting hired and I’m still inspired,” he said in 2006. “As long as I can walk up on that stage, I want to make people happy. I want to make people dance.”
Charles Louis Brown was born in Gaston, N.C., on Aug. 22, 1936. He never knew his father, Albert Louis Moody, a Marine. He took the surname of his mother, Lyla Louise Brown, a housekeeper who raised her several children in poverty.
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IN THE VIDEO BELOW CHUCK BROWN EXPLAINS HIS GO-GO HIT BUSTIN’ LOOSE