He was known as the Godfather of Go-go, the mustachioed baritone singer-songwriter-guitarist-bandleader who traveled the world on behalf of the music genre that became the hallmark of D.C.
Chuck Brown, who is credited with creating the percussion-driven, rollicking call and response music, died at an area hospital May 16. He was 75. A relative of Brown’s said he had been fighting cancer, though several media outlets reported that he died of pneumonia.
Around Washington, fans converged on churches, clubs and street corners to pay homage to the man who started his legendary career as a young child singing and playing piano in church before picking up the guitar while serving time in Lorton prison.
A line wrapped around the Soul Factory church in Forestville, where fans stood patiently waiting to get in, some reminiscing about performances they had seen while others fought back tears and lamented the loss of the international ambassador of go-go. Hundreds of fans gathered at the Howard Theater in Northwest, where a scheduled appearance by Brown was cancelled recently because of his illness. Perhaps the most poignant gathering was a candlelight vigil on Chuck Brown Way NW, which had been dedicated to Brown in 2009 in a ceremony that brought him to tears.
“I just loved him and I loved his music,” said Barbara Jones, 39, of Landover, who stopped by the vigil at the Soul Factory. “I’ve been going to Chuck Brown concerts since I was a teenager. A friend of mine called me and told me what happened. I was just heartbroken. D.C. won’t be the same without Chuck.”
Fans both unknown and famous took to social media to express their grief for the beloved entertainer whose voice mixed equal parts dark chocolate sexiness and gravelly soul. At one point, Twitter was logging more than 100 posts every few minutes.
“rip to the godfather of go-go Chuck brown Damn I’m hurt! He was like an uncle to me. Sad day!!” tweeted rapper Snoop Dogg.
“Really wish I could be part of the celebration of Chuck Brown’s life which is sure to be a legendary Go-Go throw down in DC!” tweeted crooner Eric Benet.
“Lord have mercy!” said actress Taraji P. Henson, who was raised in the District.
Carroll Hynson, who produced Brown’s “We the People” and “Salt of the Earth” albums in the early 1970s, recalled on Wednesday’s Daily Drum program on WHUR how he met Brown at the Shelter Room club 42 years ago and watched his career expand.
“We talk about James Brown and Marvin Gay and now we’re going to talk about Chuck Brown, with a voice and ability and a talent that will never be duplicated.”