He was 75. Brown, widely acclaimed as the “Godfather of go-go” for his pioneering sound, died on Wednesday at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. Hospital spokesman Gary Stephenson confirmed Brown had died after a hospital stay that began April 18.
Thanks to Brown and his deep, gravelly voice, go-go music was uniquely identified with Washington. That’s where he continued to play the city’s club circuit to a loyal audience late in life. Mayor Vincent Gray said the nation’s capital will be a different place without him. Mournful admirers of the musician were called on Wednesday evening to an impromptu candlelight vigil in Washington, where a sound truck was to blast a special Chuck Brown music mix to the crowd before a prayer session for him. “Go-go is D.C.’s very own unique contribution to the world of pop music,” he said. “Today is a very sad day for music lovers the world over.”
In 2007 Brown told The Associated Press that go-go was influenced by sounds and fast beats he heard early in life, growing up in North Carolina and Virginia, combined with his experience later, playing with a Latin band. “Go-go is a music that continues on and on, and it’s a call and response communication with the audience,” Brown said. Go-go was heavy on percussion with drummers as lead players, accented by guitar riffs, keyboards and horns. Sometimes the musicians would play for two or three hours without stopping. In between tunes, Brown would keep the thunk of percussion going and talk to the crowd.
Brown’s hit “Bustin’ Loose” with his group, the Soul Searchers, helped define go-go’s sound. It spent several weeks atop the R&B chart in 1979. Rapper Nelly later sampled Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” in 2002 for his massive hit “Hot in Herre,” which won Nelly a Grammy.