City Paper is not for tourists
As the city government moves closer to designating go-go as the official music of Washington, D.C., what that will mean for the culture remains unclear. In the meantime, longtime community activist Ron Moten, who has been at the forefront of the DontMuteDC movement since last year, is working to launch a new go-go museum.
And he’s doing it the go-go way—not waiting on institutional support.
Instead, Moten is banking on go-go’s strong DIY ethos and powerful sense of community to help create the museum, which he aims to open by late spring in Check It Enterprises, the business and community development center on Martin Luther King Jr Ave. SE where he is a partner.
“That’s how the go-go community has always been,” says Moten. “It’s organic. When you just get in there and you start it, people respond. It’s a call and response. That’s what we’re doing with this museum. We call, and people respond.”
In the time-honored go-go tradition of call and response, a band’s lead talker exchanges chants with the audience, thereby emphasizing go-go’s essential sense of community. In the case of the museum, Moten is seeking grassroots fundraising and soliciting donations from the community of go-go artists and fans.
At press time, Moten’s GoFundMe page for the museum reached $17,041, and recently collected nearly $10,000 in a single day when WPGC-95.5. FM broadcast a 12-hour fundraiser from the Central Communications Metro PCS store that was the epicenter of the DontMuteDC movement last spring.
As the museum dream moves closer to reality, City Paper asked some folks in and around go-go what their museum might look like, and what items they might be willing to loan or donate.
Experience Unlimited bandleader Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott is one of several go-go stars hoping that the museum will feature footage from the 1987 Go-Go Live at the Capital Centre all-go-go concert with “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers, Rare Essence, Experience Unlimited, Little Benny & the Masters, Junkyard Band, D.C. Scorpio, Go Go Lorenzo, and Hot, Cold Sweat. “That right there was an epic moment in go-go history,” says Sugar Bear.
He plans to donate some of the items that he was unable to get into the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s collection—“one of my bass guitars or the Experience Unlimited hat that I wore in the video for ‘Da Butt,’” he says.
Promoter Darryll Brooks, who presented that concert and released the VHS recording of the show with his partner Carol Kirkendall, agrees. “Go-Go Live in the Capital Centre is gonna be integrated in there some way, somehow,” he says. Brooks will also donate some of the Go-Go Live flyers. “I’m thinking I’ll also get my hands on some of the radio spots we recorded back in the day,” he says.
Be’la Dona keyboardist “Sweet” Cherie Mitchell-Agurs, is one of many who would like to see a Madame Tussauds-style figure of go-go founder Chuck Brown. She would donate various items, including personalized Be’la Dona drumsticks and one of the band’s Wammie Awards.
Back in the day, Rare Essence producer and keyboardist Roy Battle served as a co-producer for Pleasure, the first all-female go-go band. “What I’d really like to see is a classic Reo Edwards PA system stack,” says Battle, referring to the Trouble Funk founding manager, co-producer, and sound engineer who played a key role in the band’s early powerhouse sound. “That was really the start of the whole go-go sound that went across the city.”
Trouble Funk bandleader and founder “Big” Tony Fisher is one of several artists who stressed the importance of historical accuracy. “I definitely would love for them to have the true story of how this thing actually began,” he says. “We’re talking about a museum, so I don’t want to see this thing be a popularity contest. A museum shows the history of art and its significance.”
Big Tony has an original recording of Trouble Funk’s “E-Flat Boogie” to donate as well as a poster for his 9:30 Club birthday party that featured the Foo Fighters’ top go-go fan, Dave Grohl.
Like Big Tony, Junkyard Band’s Dave “32” Ellis, former rapper with the Northeast Groovers, hopes for veracity. “I just want it to be authentic and the truth,” he says. “Too many people never do the proper research and get it half-ass.”
He is not sure if he has anything to donate. “Hats, jerseys, uniforms—I can’t keep that stuff because I always end up giving it away. I gave it away to the streets already.”
Rare Essence band leader and guitarist Andrew “Whiteboy” Johnson looks forward to seeing the old Day-Glo Globe posters advertising the shows as well as ticket stubs from historic shows at Wilmer’s Park, the Howard Theatre, and the Washington Coliseum. He may donate one of the tuxedos the band wore at the Coliseum.
Whiteboy’s bandmate James Funk “would love to see the official proclamation of go-go as the sound of the city in a glass case, such as the Constitution at the National Archives,” he says.
Funk plans to frame and donate an old poster of Rare Essence standing around the red Mercedes that belonged to the late drummer Quentin “Footz” Davidson, a founding band member whose drumming style influenced dozens who came after him.
“Lil” Chris Procter, leader of bounce beat band TOB, envisions statues of go-go’s greatest, including Chuck Brown, Anthony “Little Benny” Harley, and Reggie “Polo” Burwell, the bounce beat pioneer and lead talker of TCB.
Lil Chris will donate a 2011 video from a sweet 16 party in a Maryland club, where TOB was joined by a party guest, Chuck Brown. “We played one set and didn’t even know Chuck was there listening to us,” says Lil Chris. “We found out during the break, and we were like, now we all gotta tighten up. Chuck says in the video, ‘y’all the funkiest band I have played with in a long time.’”
His TOB bandmate, keyboard player Larenzo “Loso” Barber hopes the museum will include go-go’s more recent manifestations. “Big names from the early generations for sure, but also the bounce beat generation, TOB, TCB, and all the others,” he says. Loso has plenty to donate, including TOB T-shirts, lighters, and phone covers.
Recently retired Donnell Floyd, a veteran of Rare Essence and Team Familiar, wants the museum to display instruments played by the go-go greats, like “Footz’s drumset and Chuck’s guitar.” He plans to donate one of the glittery jackets he wore to his bigger shows.
Floyd’s longtime bandmate, drummer Domo “Youngman” Lee, looks forward to “the behind-the-scenes history,” he says. Lee will loan some of the jewelry given to the members of Team Familiar by Yoruba king the Ooni of Ife during the band’s trip 2017 to Nigeria.
Go-go writer and advocate Jill Greenleigh thinks the museum should educate tourists with nightly band showcases, “maybe at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., so tourists can experience go-go,” she says. Also, she says, a museum shop should sell music for tourists to take home. Greenleigh has many items to donate, including permits from a 1991 D.C. Committee to Save Our Music protest against the decision by WOL 1450-AM to cut its only regular go-go time slot.
Lovail Long, co-creator of the go-go musical The Giz, says he doesn’t “want to just see the bands, because there’s a whole community that supports go-go—the clothing lines, the films, the theater, the dancers.”
He’ll donate promotional posters and costumes from The Giz, a go-go adaptation of The Wiz presented last year at the MGM National Harbor, including a pair of bedazzled red Chucks worn by Dottie, the Dorothy character.
Experience Unlimited vocalist Mia Moscato wants to see “more history into how bounce beat and gospel go-go started,” she says.
GoGoRadio Live owner Nico Hobson hopes to see the congos played by Tyrone “Jungle Boogie” Williams, an early and influential member of Rare Essence. Hobson, who sold go-go PA tapes downtown for years, may donate his best marketing tool from those days: “My original boombox that I used to sell my go-go tapes on F Street,” he says.
Rare Essence rapper Calvin “Killa Cal” Henry offers up an excellent idea for those musicians who can’t fully support themselves financially by performing—having the museum employ past or current band members. He will donate the Rare Essence jacket that he was given when he joined the band.
Bandleader Matt “Swamp Guinee” Miller of Afro-go-go roots ensemble Crank LuKongo hopes the museum will highlight go-go’s social conscience. “The works of bands, songs, and albums in the genre from past to present that have specifically concentrated on social justice, activism, and education….will give evidence to go-go’s voice as a whole,” he says.
He will contribute a video from the 2018 album release party forCrank LuKongo that featured Experience Unlimited’s William “Ju Ju” House on drums and guitarist Junior Marvin of Bob Marley & The Wailers, a night he describes as “a moment in history when a legendary icon in go-go collaborated with a legendary icon in reggae.”
Most important of all, notes Sugar Bear, is to foster understanding of this precious regional culture. “I would like for people who may patronize the museum to understand go-go,” he says. “They need to see what they been missing all this time.”
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