City Paper is not for tourists.
When Melody Records on Connecticut Avenue NW was closing, I went in on the last day and bought a cassette titled “Adams Morgan,” by Vicky Troy and Charles Ragusa. I finally found a cassette player, listened to it, and it’s INCREDIBLY catchy (and a bit cheesy). Everyone I’ve played it for loves it and gets addicted to it. I’d love to know more about its history.
That song is catchy, isn’t it? And so rich in quotable couplets! Like, “Look at the people they’re so unique/all of the languages which they speak.” And, “You want to stop, you know you should/cuz this is a real good neighborhood.” Plus, “Adams Morgan is so divine/I’ll always love two triple-zero nine.”
And my favorite:“Where do you find diversity?/Columbia Road around 18th Street!”
Vicky Troy and Charles Ragusa wrote their reggae ode to the neighborhood in 1985, when they both lived in the Promenade Apartments on Columbia Road NW. At the time, Troy had a jazzy pop group, the Loose Fish Band, that played around town; Ragusa was a bartender juggling several artistic pursuits. When Troy mentioned her band was booked to play that year’s Adams Morgan Day Festival, Ragusa suggested they write “an Adams Morgan theme song,” he says.
The festival was approaching, so they penned “Adams Morgan” in a single night. Because of how Ragusa sang the first verse—“look at the people they’re so unique”—they decided it could work as a reggae song, Troy remembers. “We were a bunch of white folks trying to make a reggae record,” she says, so they booked time at Ivy City’s Lion & Fox Recording Studios, which specializes in reggae music. Jim Fox, an engineer who’s worked with acts like Black Uhuru, oversaw the session, helping the song sound “more like authentic reggae” with whistle sounds, junkyard drums, and a Caribbean syncopation, Troy says.
They made several hundred cassettes featuring “Adams Morgan” and a dub remix of the song. Ragusa brought the tape to clubs and record stores around town, and Troy and Ragusa were interviewed about it on what was then the soft-rock-oriented WMAL-FM.
The day of the 1985 Adams Morgan Day Festival, the song got another boost from the weather. When rain forced the festival to postpone live music, the stages began playing “Adams Morgan” over their PAs—Troy and Ragusa had provided the festival with several cassettes. “Pretty soon the whole crowd was singing ‘Adams Morgan,’” Troy says. When the rain stopped, her band played the song live.
These days, Ragusa owns a pet-sitting business in Vienna, Va., while Troy is a massage therapist who lives in Lake Barcroft, Va. She also has a band called Aki Mother. Both say they’re proud of their song’s melody and rich recording, but in separate interviews, they both suggested they might have approached the song a little differently today. Of the song’s multicultural message, Troy says “it’s not politically correct to say ‘so many cultures, they all blend in one’ …you still maintain your individuality.” A diverse neighborhood like Adams Morgan, she says, is more like “a mixed salad, not a melting pot.”
For his part, Ragusa says that if he and Troy had more time, “we would’ve approached it more as a song and less of a jingle … I could maybe be more esoteric in the song, make it more substantial than it is. But it’s definitely a great song. Very catchy.”
Listen: Vicky Troy and Charles Ragusa
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Download: “Adams Morgan”