In an interview two years ago, Brown said he never imagined the success that would come after he taught himself to play the guitar fashioned by a Lorton prison mate.
“I paid him five cartons of cigarettes,” he said, his trademark baritone rising into a gritty laugh.
He’d been born Charles Lewis Moody into a musical family in North Carolina. Several of his relatives, including his mother, Lyla, were singers. She also played the accordion and harmonica. He and his mother sang for money, he said.
As he got older, his interest in music waned. When he was still young, his family moved to the District, where he crossed paths with the teenage distractions that sometimes lead a young man astray. While pondering his future on sleepless nights inside a tiny cell at Lorton, he began to view music as his ticket out of poverty. When he was released, Brown headed back to D.C. and started playing with local bands in many of the hot spots on U Street NW. He also played house parties.
“People would pay me with barbecue and liquor,” he said. “I didn’t get paid much money, but I got to eat and I got to work.”
Brown supplemented his music earnings by working construction jobs. Eventually, he became so popular that music became his full time job. National fame came in 1979 when he and the Soul Searchers band recorded the iconic “Bustin’ Loose.”
Brown described his music as “a combination of hip-hop, blues, jazz, Latin and rock. His concerts were always a party, whether he was playing one of the local go-go clubs or a dance for the Congressional Black Caucus.
“I decided to call it go-go because it goes and goes and goes,” he said. “I used to do 15 or 20 songs a night. I go out of one tune then into another. It has the call and response, so people participate. My music is all about having a good time, getting the people out on the dance floor. The beat never stops.”
Neither did he. His last album, “We Got This,” which included the single “Love,” featuring Jill Scott, put him back on the national charts and in the international spotlight. Though it started in the District, Brown took his gift of go-go around the world, touring internationally, often to sold-out audiences.
Brown parted crowds when he walked down the street, with everybody from children to senior citizens stopping him for a good word. “Wind it up, Chuck!” they’d yell. He’d grin and flash his hallmark smile.
He loved the music, but he loved the fans more, Brown said. The blessing of his life, besides his family, he said, was to be able to entertain them.
“That’s why I always try to do a good show,” he said. “I want them to always leave satisfied.”