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The announcement, a brief video clip posted on social media, began with a song:
“I come from nowhere, and I chase the daylight, to entertain you,See, I gave my whole life.D.C. I love you, and I hope you feel me…”
After nearly four decades in go-go, Donnell Floyd, who performed with Rare Essence for 18 years before breaking away to lead several bands including 911, Familiar Faces, and, most recently, Team Familiar, has announced his impending retirement from the music.
Floyd’s plan to step down at the end of 2019 came as a surprise and reminded some in the go-go community of another announcement he made back in 2001, when he stunned fans with the news that he was leaving Rare Essence to create a new group, 911.
This time, he chose his original “I Gave My Whole Life” to precede the news. “It’s my song saying who I am and how much I love D.C.,” he explains.
And while Floyd, 54, did not specify his reasons for retiring in the video posted last week, he is not reluctant to discuss his motivations. He now says that his self-imposed retirement has everything to do with his performance style.
“My brand of entertainment is different than Chuck’s,” he says, referring to go-go founder Chuck Brown. “Chuck stood up there with a guitar singing ‘Moody’s Mood,’ and he could have did it ‘til he was 100 because it’s a laid-back style… My brand is to stand on the speakers and yell and scream. I tried to remake myself as many times as I could over the years, but at the end of the day, people come to hear me do my catalog—and my catalog is yelling and screaming.”
Floyd notes that his aggressive vocal style is different from those of other old school lead talkers who continue to perform, including RE’s James “Funk” Thomas and Experience Unlimited’s Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott, comparing himself instead to Junkyard Band’s Steven “Buggs” Herrion and Backyard Band’s Anwan “Big G” Glover.
Mostly, he says, his retirement plans were the result of a television special, though he can’t remember whether it was about K-Ci & JoJo or Boyz II Men. “I was laughing to myself as I was watching because that looked terrible, you know, older guys trying to act like they did when they was 20,” he says.
Floyd began his go-go career with Chance Band, and he was still a student at Duke Ellington School of the Arts when he joined Rare Essence in 1983. He started as RE’s saxophone player, but over the years he influenced the band to embrace a harder, more hip-hop influenced sound as a rapper and co-writer of its biggest hits of the late ’80s and ’90s—”Lock It,” “Work the Walls,” “King of the Go-Go Beat,” and “Overnight Scenario.”
Those go-go classics were not Floyd’s only contributions. In the ’80s, he and Rare Essence drummer Quentin “Footz” Davidson helmed the label Kolossal Records, which released local hits by rappers Vinnie D and D.C. Scorpio. Floyd also worked on behalf of the music as vice chair of the Go-Go Coalition.
“Donnell is a strong voice and personality in go-go,” notes TMOTTGOGO’s Kato Hammond. “People always talk about how go-go doesn’t have enough originals, but you can’t say that to Donnell. He also took the second mic to another level, really changing the way go-go bands use that second mic.”
In 2017, Team Familiar performed in Nigeria, an opportunity Floyd later described as “the most incredible experience I could even fathom.” He has performed at dozens of area clubs as well as larger venues including the Capital Centre, The Howard Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Capital One Arena (FKA Verizon Center when he performed), and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s inauguration.
Team Familiar will continue to play during this year, including shows at the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Basketball Tournament and the All-Star Weekend in Charlotte as well as gigs in Philadelphia and Miami. An upcoming local show will pair Team Familiar with Floyd’s old band, Rare Essence. Floyd is also planning a big finale. “I want it to be full of props and showmanship,” he says, “all that kind of stuff that we seem to have lost along the way.” After that, Floyd’s only planned go-go performance is a 2020 Rare Essence reunion which he has already committed to and occasional private shows for longtime fans.
For now, the future of Team Familiar—whose lineup includes conga player Milton “Go-Go Mickey” Freeman—remains unclear. “This is all kind of new to us,” says Floyd. “We still kind of talking our way through it.”
Fans will be happy to learn that Floyd is not abandoning music completely. He has been practicing saxophone again and hopes to land a spot in an R&B band. “When I started with Rare Essence I was the guy at the end of the stage that nobody paid any attention to,” he says. “So it would be a great ending for me to go back to being the guy at the end of the stage that nobody pays any attention to.”
Floyd posted the announcement on Facebook and Instagram, and the news was first reported on the TMOTTGOGO website. Almost immediately, the outpouring of love began. “Dam this jive hurt a little bit. It’s like somebody just removed the monument or removed Georgia Ave or the Big Chair,” wrote Facebook user Scott A. Dickens.
Another Facebook user, Oumar Hill, posted: “Thanks for keeping me busy, out of jail and focused on my teenage/fake grown man days. Couldn’t have made it without you Donnell Floyd Sr. You will be missed on stage but your presence will live forever, homes.”