Oscar surprises are generally about as exciting as a dry toast, but last night during the Academy Awards show, Experience Unlimited bandleader Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott got the shock of a lifetime.
In a movie music trivia segment led by actor Lil Rel Howery and the evening’s musical director, Questlove, actress Glenn Close, nominated for her performance in Hillbilly Elegy, not only successfully identified EU’s 1988 hit “Da Butt,” which was featured in Spike Lee’s film School Daze, she also gave a shout out to “Sugar Bear, Backyard Band, and the whole DMV” before getting up to briefly dance Da Butt. While the moment inspired both great hilarity and cynical speculation on social media, it was gratifying for the go-go community of artists and fans.
“This was totally unexpected and amazing, like I won the lottery. I can’t even put into words what it means for me personally and for go-go culture,” Sugar Bear says. “That right there? I’m speechless.”
Sugar Bear wasn’t even watching the Oscars when that segment started. He was looking at highlights of the Washington Wizards game against the Cleveland Cavaliers when he got a call from music promoter Butchie Farrell, who had been watching The Mandalorian when his wife called out from the next room that he had better call Sugar Bear right away.
“I caught the part when Glenn Close was actually saying Sugar Bear and EU,” Sugar Bear says. “I said, ‘Lord have mercy, this is large.’ How many people were watching that show, and to see her get up and do Da Butt, and for her to do it well? What a great honor. It was a mind-blowing experience.”
Sugar Bear compares the moment to his 2019 appearance on the BET Awards—“the same vibrations came to me,” he says—but this time was different. “I never watch the Oscars. I don’t want to downplay it, but that’s reality,” he says. But he is familiar with Close, and like a number of men of his generation, has learned something from her. “Fatal Attraction, that’s one of my favorites. She scared me straight,” he says, chuckling.
Since Close’s shoutout, Sugar Bear has been getting thousands of congratulatory texts and messages on social media, so many that he can’t reply to them all. “My phone didn’t stop ringing for two hours straight. I didn’t hardly get no sleep. I’m so grateful that they recognized our culture. I was thanking God, because he made it possible. Yes, he did.”
Backyard Band was between sets at Annandale’s Diamond Lounge when band members began to receive a barrage of texts. “At first I didn’t even understand what was going on,” says bandleader Anwan “Big G” Glover. “I was getting texts and Instagram messages from everywhere—Seattle, LA, Atlanta, Chicago.” The club was so loud, though, he could not hear the video clip people were sending him. “Once I saw that video, my jaw dropped, like that oh my God emoji,” says Big G. “I was ecstatic.”
By mid-morning, Big G estimated that he had watched the video “like a thousand times.” And he still can’t believe it. “I have watched her in all these movies … to have her say my band’s name at the Oscars, was like, what?! That was huge right there,” he says. “This means everything because it’s showing people that we have this hidden jewel here that the rest of the world needs to see. Everyone needs to keep on pushing the music, especially with the city getting ready to open.
“We all need to jump on the motorcycle and run through the stop signs,” adds Big G.
The Los Angeles Times reported last night that it had confirmed that the segment was scripted. Still, if Close didn’t know go-go before, she does now. And she can dance Da Butt reasonably well, considering. While Sugar Bear rates her Da Butt a 10 out of 10, Big G isn’t quite there. “I’d give her like a seven or eight,” he says. “But she was partying and went right into it. She can come to our cookout.”
“Man, it’s an honor to have her speak that beautiful name, Backyard,” adds Big G. “And legendary Sugar Bear with ‘Da Butt,’ the whole DMV, she said our names. We’re really working. And we’re being noticed. I’m ready.”