Michelle Blackwell could have been crowned the sexiest woman in go-go. If, come Nov. 19, she had beaten the six other nominees in WKYS FM’s Go-Go Awards contest, the title would have been hers.
But Blackwell doesn’t want to be the sexiest woman in go-go. “I know that what we do, what we’ve been doing for 20 years…has absolutely nothing to do with being sexy,” hissed the songstress, who has performed with go-go bands Suttle Thoughts and Northeast Groovers and has just released a CD with the WHAT? Band. “I’ve never seen a ‘Sexiest Leading Lady’ before,” she says. “I’ve never seen that happen.”
In addition to being forced to compete for the “degrading” Sexiest Leading Lady designation, Blackwell alleges that women are underrepresented in WKYS’s other categories, particularly those highlighting drummers, conga players, and promoters. The nominations were riddled with other oversights as well, she says. “Somebody was definitely asleep at the wheel.”
Bobbie Westmoreland, a writer for Take Me Out to the Go-Go magazine, suggests the radio station might need a go-go refresher course. When WKYS first posted its nominations, she says, “there were a lot of categories that were, one, wrong, and, two, it’s not clear what period they’re covering.”
For example, she says, the nominations included the Huck-a-Bucks, who have “been broken up for a while,” as well as venues that are now extinct mixed in with those that are still operating. Meanwhile, Westmoreland complains, some of the most “legendary” hot spots such as Ibex and Metro Club, also known as Deno’s, were left out altogether. “It’s kind of confusing, because everything is so mixed up,” she says.
With its first-ever go-go awards ceremony, WKYS had hoped to plant a big smooch on D.C.’s indigenous music industry while whipping its fans into a go-go-inspired frenzy. On its lipstick-lacquered Web site, WKYS proclaims, “Go-Go music has been and will be the pulse of the city, so to show respect and pay homage to the members of the go-go community we are throwing the first ever 93.9 WKYS DC Go-Go Awards.”
At first, the marketing bonanza seemed to work. A listener shrieked with joy as a DJ sprinkled free tickets over the radiowaves. But it wasn’t long before the criticism began trickling in.
Says WKYS program director Steve Hegwood, it started with the sorts of complaints you might expect in a tightly knit music scene. “In all awards shows, some artists are going to feel that they were left out,” he says. A couple of go-go fans said they thought the category for drummers and conga players should be split into two. Then on Kevin “Kato” Hammond’s online radio show Oct. 20, against a backdrop of squealing siren sounds, the DJ cried, “Aw, shucks, somebody done committed a crime, y’all.” He called WKYS disrespectful—of women and of go-go.
In response, WKYS began tweaking its classifications. The “Sexiest Leading Lady” category was replaced with “Best Leading Lady in Go-Go.” Conga got its own set of nominees. And by Oct. 23, Hegwood had called in the experts.
“We have received a few complaints,” he acknowledges, and says he asked members of the go-go community for recommendations. He even consulted WKYS’s Go-Go Awards advisory board for guidance. That’s right: the president has his Cabinet, and WKYS has a Go-Go Awards advisory board.
Hegwood won’t divulge who exactly composes this quasi-classified advisory board, but says it includes WKYS personnel—assistant program director P-Stew, marketing director Tobi Davis, and radio personalities Antonio “The Cuban Cigar Smoker” and Go-Go Rudy. He says the board also includes go-go artists, club owners, local promoters, and individuals associated with clothing stores, but he claims naming names would quickly devolve into a “political nightmare.”
Hammond attended the Oct. 23 meeting with station representatives. And although it was not an advisory board meeting, the group was able to iron out “the criteria of this whole ballot” and clear up some of the confusion about timing. The awards will focus on go-go’s last decade, and Hammond says he left the meeting feeling reassured. He even received a brand new appointment to the station’s Go-Go Awards advisory board. “The whole point is to see that they’re sincere and it’s not just some marketing ploy,” he says.
According to Hegwood, the station’s motives extend far beyond marketing. “We’re really trying to do something good for the community,” he says. Winners will be chosen online by voters and tickets are free to radio listeners. “We’re not trying to make any money,” he says. “We’re the first ones to step up to do it, and we’re being somewhat criticized for it. Why?”
The ceremony, to be held at the Lincoln Theater, will be hosted by Big G of the Backyard Band and will feature live performances by Rare Essence, Wale, CCB, Tabi Bonney, and Chuck Brown, who will receive a lifetime achievement award. —Jessica Gould
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