It hurts me to say that our music legends are dying out at an alarmingly rapid rate; hurts me to my core. To see our music heroes blowing away like dust in the wind is not something that we can ever truly prepare for, whether it’s from unusually sketchy circumstances (Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, etc.) or from heart failure or cancer. The latter two were the cases of Go-Go king Chuck Brown and the queen of disco, Donna Summer, respectively.
Chuck Brown died from multiple organ failure on May 16th, and right behind him the very next day, Donna Summer passed away, yet another victim of lung cancer. It goes without saying the impact that both artists left on popular music, but in truth, the legacies of artists like Brown and Summer are never really mentioned enough, even after they’re gone.
Chuck Brown is a perfect example. The man practically is Go-Go music. And while he doesn’t get credit for inventing the genre, it’s been established that Chuck Brown is the driving force behind Go-Go. In short, Chuck Brown is mainly responsible for putting Go-Go music on the map, and establishing Washington, D.C. as a the Chocolate City that George Clinton talked about in the self-titled 1970’s Parliament song. Brown has played a major part in both Go-Go, and the C.C. music scene, being DC’s most noted music artist next to hometown hero Marvin Gaye. And although he wasn’t Go-Go music’s first national charting artist, Chuck Brown (along with his band, the Soul Searchers) defined the signature Go-Go sound with his smash hit, “Bustin’ Loose”. As great as the record is, it doesn’t even come close to Brown’s live performances, where the hot percussions leaped out at you, making you a willing slave to the rhythm, and his songs would be blended into each other like Kool Herc himself was DJ’ing the show. From my own experiences in the 80’s, a live Go-Go show at say, the Masonic Temple in Northwest D.C., was an otherworldly experience that stops short of being indescribable, with the call-and-response by the lead vocalists, and the horn section ratcheting up the crowd to an even higher level. Go-Go did that to you, and Chuck Brown was the main man responsible, thus is title as the “Godfather of Go-Go.” Like a true godfather, Chuck blessed many a musician, DJ, and band to go forth and create good music.
Already an icon in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia area) and southeast/northeast region in the 70’s, he played a hand spawning several other Go-Go bands that would go on to have an impact. Talented bands such as Rare Essence, EU, Trouble Funk, Redds & the Boys, and Hot, Cold, Sweat made D.C. the Chocolate City Go-Go capital of the world. Chuck was truly an old school artist that brought a new school sound to the masses. And we listened all the way up until he couldn’t perform any longer, which was only recently. With his passing, Go-Go is left to stand on its own, for both the good and the bad.
Donna Summer is someone that needs to introduction. Unless you’ve been listening to polka all of your life, or you’ve been living in a
box without a radio, you already know who the disputed Queen of Disco is. (Hint: it’s not Sylvester, based on his gender, but he still comes extremely close regardless) If anyone was made to sing disco, it was Donna Summer, who spent a lengthy amount of time living and performing in Europe in the late 1960’s and 70’s. In fact, like Hendrix before her, Donna’s success came from Europe to over to the States. It can be said that Donna Summer, in addition to being the Queen of Disco, is also the queen of electronic dance music. Just take a listen to “I Feel Love”. If ever a song was made for the discotheques, it was that tune. While the music is sheer electronic, Donna’s vocals give “I Feel Love” life, form, color and texture. And that was the essence of Donna Summer. While she excelled in disco, making it a household genre that spread like wildfire once it reached America, she was also very adaptable and could sing pretty much any style you put in front of her. Her 80’s hit, “Dinner With Gershwin” showed her vocal staying power, as she was still belting out notes that had strong gospel roots that she never abandoned in her music, regardless of whether it was disco, R&B or pop.
As a young teenager coming up in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Donna Summer meant great dance music, especially “Bad Girls”, which was probably her strongest club song in the black community that I noticed. From North Carolina to New Jersey, “Bad Girls” was getting serious play at every dance or teen club, with people running to the floor once they heard the song intro. But even before she became a household name and disco diva, complete with her own television show, Donna Summer made a strong connection with everyone with her earlier hits, especially the scintillatingly sexy, “Love To Love You Baby”. Donna Summer was sexy without trying to be sexy…and her music reflected her sex appeal in a way someone like Mary J. Blige and Beyonce wish she could bottle up and sell to their fans.
Both these icons will be sorely missed, and music is lesser today because of their passing. It is my hope that both Donna Summer and Chuck Brown will not be forgotten, not by their fans, that will always keep them in their memory, but by a media that has proven to get more fickle as the day goes by. Both legendary artists are gone too soon, but we’ll always remember them by the music the shared with us. So with that said, I’ll give you the immortal words by Chuck Brown. Chuck used to close every show with this saying; a show I’ve had the pleasure of seeing quite a few times – and it couldn’t be more appropriate right now. “So here’s to life and every joy it brings,” Chuck would say, “Here’s to life, to dreamers and their dreams.”