D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) joins Kojo, Tom Sherwood and Mike DeBonis in the studio.
It’s been called the District’s only true indigenous art-form: go-go music. It’s also the music that defines the rhythm of urban life in the nation’s capital. But go-go’s popularity remains mostly confined to our region. We explore the past, present and future of go-go music.
- Cherie "Sweet Cherie" Mitchell Musician
- Anwan Glover Musician, Backyard Band; Actor, "The Wire," "Treme"
- Andre Johnson Musician, Rare Essence
- Kip Lornell Musicologist, George Washington University
In this video produced by the National Visionary Leadership Project, Chuck Brown, the legendary “Godfather of Go-Go,” describes how he developed and evolved Go-Go:
Director Spike Lee’s film School Daze featured EU’s Go Go classic Da Butt:
The group Rare Essence performs at the 2008 Stone Soul Picnic at Washington D.C.’s RFK Stadium:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. There's a rhythm to life in Washington, D.C. that has nothing to do with the drumbeat of federal workers shuffling in and out of office buildings or the pitter patter of tourists scoping out the monuments. Go-go is the beat behind what some people say is D.C.'s only true indigenous art form.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's music that sprang from neighborhoods you're not likely to see on the tour mobiles that circle the Mall, a sound that blends funk and soul with a bounce beat that's completely unique to the Washington area. So much so that despite the rocket fuel rise of rap and hip-hop on the global level, go-go's largely remained an exclusively D.C. thing. But if you listen hard enough to a lot of the popular music that's blowing up the airwaves today, you'll hear the far-reaching influences of sounds like this.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThat's the Junkyard Barn and Sardines. And joining us in studio is Andre Johnson. He a founding member of the band Rare Essence. Andre, thank you for joining us.
MR. ANDRE JOHNSONThank you for having us.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Anwan Glover. He is a member of the group Backyard Band. He's also an actor who's had roles -- you may have seen him in HBO's "The Wire" and "Treme," which just started its new season a couple of weeks ago. Anwan Glover, thank you for joining us.
MR. ANWAN GLOVERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIHe's also known as Big G. Also in studio with us is Sweet Cherie Mitchell. She's a singer, pianist and composer. She's performed with Chuck Brown, E.U. and several other go-go acts. Cherie, thank you for joining us.
MS. CHERIE "SWEET CHERIE" MITCHELLThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd Kip Lornell is a musicologist and professor at George Washington University. He's the author of the book, "The Beat: Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C." Kip, thank you for joining us.
MR. KIP LORNELLMy pleasure.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Where do you think go-go fits into the cultural fabric of Washington, D.C.? What else would you consider to be art forms that are indigenous to the D.C. area? 800-433-8850 or you can just send us a tweet @kojoshow. Andre, let me start with you.
NNAMDIWashington is a place that has a legitimate claim to all kinds of musicians, but Duke Ellington's jazz is emblematic of a musical movement that took place in New York. Modern-day soul is part of the Motown story in Detroit. The music you made with Rare Essence is something that was born out of D.C. and has stayed in D.C. It's my understanding that you played your first gig in the '70s at the Linda Poland (sp?) Recreation Center in D.C. What pulled you into learning music and performing back in those days?
JOHNSONThere was a...
NNAMDIYou went to Archbishop Carroll?
JOHNSONYes, I was.
NNAMDIThere you go.
JOHNSONThere was another group -- there was a lot of groups around in the neighborhood that were performing, mainly rock and roll songs of the '70s. And every time I would hear the band, I just knew that I had to be in it. And I wanted to be in there with them. So I knew in some form or fashion, I was going to be doing some music somehow.
NNAMDIBut your mother was from the South.
NNAMDIAnd she had a very strong belief in education. And she says, Andre, you are not doing anything until you graduate. Is that about right?
JOHNSONThat is exactly right. I'm trying to figure out how you know all this.
NNAMDII read up on you.
JOHNSONOkay. That's exactly right. In school, of course, I'm distracted because I'm thinking about band rehearsal as opposed to thinking about the algebra that I was supposed to be doing and not paying attention and started to lag behind. And Archbishop Carroll costs money. So she was like, look, if you don't get it together, then you're going to have to sit down for a while. And that's exactly what happened.
NNAMDILittle Benny told Kip that you guys started off by playing a lot of top 40-ish stuff. What was the music that you and your band mates were listening to around that time?
JOHNSONThere's a lot of Parliament Funkadelic, Cameo, The Bar-Kays, Earth, Wind and Fire. It's all in that type of stuff, which is the reason why the music is -- I mean, the group is so large and so self-contained, having a horn section, keyboard section, percussion section.
NNAMDIAnwan, this question is for you and Cherie. What were your first memories of hearing go-go and what were the first songs that you remember pulling you into that go-go sound?
GLOVERRare Essence, like, just listening to White Boy and Funk and Foots, Mickey. Those guys growing up and I grew up behind 64 Morton Street.
GLOVERYeah. So that was like Celebrity Hall, all that right there. So I was a little kid that was always inquiring about the music. And also Junkyard. So I was always in it, but people really didn't even know who I was. I was just that little kid that was a fan and just wanted to be in it. But just like, you know, just beating on a bucket, just trying.
NNAMDIYou heard Big G or Anwan, refer to White Boy. That would be how Andre Johnson is known. Cherie, what are your first memories about go-go?
MITCHELLI remember in elementary school, in class, all the little boys, they would beat on the tables, like that.
MITCHELLThey'll do that, you know? And they were basically imitating what they heard from Rare Essence, E.U., Tribal Funk, all of those bands back then. And that's what I remember. And we would also have this group called the Side By Side Band. They were -- they consisted of police officers and they will come to our school and they will perform during an assembly. And they will play R&B, rock and roll songs and a little go-go. And so that influenced me a lot. And I said, oh, I want to do that. I want to be in a band and -- you know?
NNAMDIWhen you talk about beating like that, Donnie Simpson, when asked to describe go-go music says, so much percussion is just sick. Kip, when you were researching your book, you talk at length with Chuck Brown, the man people call the godfather of go-go. He told you that he found the beat that defines go-go music when he heard Grover Washington's song, "Mr. Magic."
NNAMDIWhat did Chuck Brown do to that beat that forced it to transform into what we now know as go-go?
LORNELLWell, from my perspective, listening to your cut like that, I'm going back to where Andre was talking about earlier in the 1970s in terms of the particular tempo that's played. It's pretty relaxed. What Chuck did was to add some more percussion to it because, as you know, you can't have a go-go band unless you have at least trap set, probably congas and timbales. So adding a little bit more to it and also adding that nonstop flavor to it. Go-go, as you well know, you go on and on. And there's also a dash of Caribbean influences in there because, you know, Howard University had even more students from the Caribbean and West Africa then, than they have now. So they have all those different elements that are in there that Chuck put together. And by the mid-1970s, he had something you could call go-go.
NNAMDIAnd of course, Chuck used to play with Los Latinos before that. But you write that the song that really pushed Chuck's new sound into the collective consciousness was "Busting' Loose," the song that people now hear every time the Washington Nationals hit a home run in National Stadium.
NNAMDIWhat does this song tell us about the changes that Chuck made to the sound that made it a go-go sound?
LORNELLAdding even more distinctive use of cong response, which is -- of course, is one of those essential elements you find in Black American music of all kinds. But also the fact that Chuck was from D.C. and started to identify this not just as a performance practice in clubs. But it was around enough for a couple of years they had to have some name added to it. And it seemed to me that one of the things that Chuck did in addition to putting all those musical elements was for that name to go with it. You know, when you have some new musical form comes up and somebody has to classify it somehow in order to help sell it, to help put it clubs to help get it on radio, and adding the word go-go to it helped to solidify all of that.
NNAMDIWe're talking about go-go music with Kip Lornell, he's a musicologist professor at George Washington University. Anwan Glover, also known as Big G is a member of the group Backyard Band, an actor who's had rolls in HBO's "The Wire" and "Treme." Sweet Cherie Mitchell is a singer, pianist and composer who has performed with several go-go groups. And Andre Johnson is a founding member of the band Rare Essence.
NNAMDIIf you've already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. The number is 800-433-8850. What do you think people can learn about life in the D.C. area by spending time listening to go-go or attending a go-go show that they wouldn't learn from a typical tour in the Mall? 800-433-8850. Here's Nico (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Nico, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
NICOHi, Kojo. I moved to D.C. about 10 years ago and was introduced to go-go music and I really got into it. But in trying to learn more about it and find more artists, I went to iTunes and searched go-go music and didn't find all that much. And I was wondering whether that's changing or why that might be, if there's any hope that more go-go music might turn up on iTunes.
NNAMDISee, Nico, that's the beef we have with the rest of the entire world, okay? But I don't know if you can explain that. Kip, can you? Why not...
LORNELLActually, Andre was talking about this before we went on the air. So I think that's a good one for him.
JOHNSONActually, there are -- I know Rare Essence has a lot of -- we have maybe 60, 70 songs that are listed on iTunes right now. We also have a new one that's coming out first, second week of June, where we're doing a whole iTunes campaign, trying to drive a lot of people using social media, radio, internet, e-mail, text messaging -- well, we're trying to put go-go back on the national radar by having everybody to go to iTunes and download the new Rare Essence. It's called "Guess Who's Back?" featuring Wale.
NNAMDIOf course, we'll talk about that later.
JOHNSONOkay. And we're just trying to put go-go back on the national radar by doing that.
NNAMDIAnd Nico, thank you very much for your call. Andre, let's stick with you for a second. You cut your first record with Rare Essence after Chuck Brown has started fine tuning the beat. The result was body moves that sounded like this.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that Chuck actually helped to produce that record.
JOHNSONYes, he did. He put the record together. He took us in the studio. It's the first time in a recording studio. So he was telling us the ins and outs, so, you know, how to get what we wanted out of it.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. Quite a few of you have called. If the lines are busy, you can go to our website, join the conversation there. Nico, thank you for your call. The number is 800-433-8850. You can send a tweet to @kojoshow and e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or just go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about D.C.'s Go-Go scene. We're talking with Kip Lornell, he's a musicologist and professor at George Washington University, author of the book, "The Beat: Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C." Andre Johnson is a founding member of the band Rare Essence. He's also known among Go-Go aficionados as White Boy. Anwan Glover is a member of the group Backyard Band. He's an actor whose had roles in HBO's, "The Wire," and, "Treme." He's also known as Big G.
NNAMDIAnd Sweet Cherie Mitchell is a signer, pianist and composer who has performed with several Go-Go acts. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Interaction is a big part of Go-Go performance, the call and response between the band and the audience. Why is that so important, Big G?
GLOVERWell, it's really just touching with your culture in your neighborhoods. Just what people, like -- they feel so big, like, you -- say, like, a different neighborhood or a person in a different group doesn't get what they get at home or at school. They can come and pay money to see our groups and really get to be this person, this big person. When you call them, response would be, like, search the quarters, four T be clipping 58. And they just really feel this big person, like, gimme G, gimme Dre, Cherie, come on, give me.
GLOVERYou know, they just feel so big when you saying their name over the microphone, that they can hear their own name said or their street names saying in the -- out the speakers.
NNAMDIAnd here's how Big G himself does it.
NNAMDIKip Lornell, call and response is a part of African tradition, isn't it?
LORNELLOh, absolutely. It's one of the cornerstones in African-American expressive culture in general. I teach a course every fall, T.W. called Musical Cultures of Black Americans. And I kind of developed this, you know, here are the 12 essential elements you find in Black American musical culture. And one of the first things I talk about is call and response. And which I finally -- what I find particularly interesting was about a song like Skillet, is that it's not just call and response between an audience that you might find out they're in the band, but there's internal call and response.
LORNELLNot just between the musicians, but the different people in the band who are -- it almost sounds like they're talking on top of one another, but it's really another internal kind of call and response. The same way you might find in a Count Basie recording from 1936 where they had the brass section, the reed section talking to one another internally. And it just becomes even more complex in a go-go, especially in a live setting where you have so many different elements, all the elements, the band and the audience and then the people within the band itself. So it's really an interesting phenomenon, expressly at the front of go-go.
NNAMDIThe other part of it is what Big G talked about and that is people, especially young people who feel a need for self-recognition. We gonna start this thing off right 'cause Tootie in the house tonight. What's the name of your crew? Who'd you bring with you? It's a way of people kind of being recognized and being , even though they're members of a big crowd. Calling people out, that's really important.
JOHNSONExactly. That's basically how I learned, like, watching White Boy, used to going -- when I got a chance to really go into celebrity hall, when I got old enough, a little taller, just to watch the amazing way that they performed on stage and how people just reacted to the call and response. When Funk used to say -- what he said to different crews and how he was so, like, orchestrater (sp?) up there. Just, like, with a band, he didn't have to turn around. He did signals and, you know, that's where I learned mine from, just watching them guys and watching White Boy and how they just had that -- just that group togetherness up there. And people just go crazy to see it.
NNAMDIThe lines are full. We'll get to the phones in a second. But Cherie, you've performed with some of the biggest names in the go-go scene, from Chuck Brown to EU. So many people think of men when they think of go-go. What do you want people to know about the role of women in this kind of music?
MITCHELLOh, yeah, we play a major role as well as the guys. Not only do we sing, but we play instruments as well. And we have a voice and we have fun just like the guys do.
NNAMDIAnd, in case you were doubting Cherie -- well, listen to Cherie on, "It's Like That," with EU.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones now. Here is Nick in Chevy Chase, Md. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKHi, how you doing, Kojo? Definitely good to hear the go-go being brought out there. Hey, I was wondering -- I wanted to know from everybody there, when they thought it started to transform into more psychedelic flavors, like when Trouble starting bringing the rototoms and when it started to get real deep with, like, you know, smoke bringing the water and stuff like that -- that's the stuff that I really like. Whereas, I love how Rare Essence is, you know. They are the songsmith, but I like it when it just gets real deep, too.
NNAMDIWhen did that start to happen, Andre?
JOHNSONThat was probably somewhere around the late '70s, early '80s. Trouble Funk has always been a heavier percussive group than anybody else. I mean, they'd had racks of cow bells and timbales and all of that other stuff long before everybody else was using all of the entire kit. So that -- late '70s, early '80s, and they stuck with that.
NNAMDIWell, you allowed me to have the opportunity to play my own go-go favorite. And that is, "E-Flat Boogie," by Trouble Funk.
NNAMDIAnd we got this e-mail from Fred, "Can you ask your panelists, what ever happened to Trouble Funk? Huge fan when I was kid, especially loved, 'Drop the Bomb.' What happened to Trouble Funk?"
LORNELLOh, they're still around.
NNAMDIThey're very much still around, Fred. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. We move on now to Michael in Washington, D.C. Hi, Michael.
MICHAELHey guys, great show. Back 30 years ago when I was a much taller and much thinner man, I was a D.J. downtown at Rumors in 1978 and '79 and '80. And I can remember coming down on Friday night, early, and just coming down and looking at the plaza there at 19th and M Street and watching all the kids setting their kits up and playing all night long for all of the people that were just out on the triangle. And it was extraordinary. I mean, those guys had better lines and better crowds than we did inside the club.
MICHAELIt was really something to see. Almost like watching the birth of go-go on the street. And you would start seeing the same guys all the time, every week. It was quite amazing.
NNAMDIAndre is the only person who will actually remember that. Can you remember -- do you remember those days at all?
JOHNSONYeah, doing a lot of the outside events, doing a lot of recreation centers, talent shows, we -- I mean, we've done it all.
NNAMDIOn to Michael in Washington. This is another Michael. Michael, thank you for your call. Here's another Michael in Washington, D.C. Michael, your turn.
MICHAEL 2Yes, how you doing? How's the panel doing? Yeah, I wanted to ask a question, most, I guess, to Andre because he sounds like he's the oldest guy in the bunch of you. How do you feel about the evolution of go-go with the sound? I mean, I'm an old school go-go. I actually went to school with your brother, (word?) Catholic High School.
2And the newest sound of go-go is not like the pocket beat as, you know, we like to call it. How do you deal with the, you know, plan for maybe a younger crowd and versus going back and forth and to the -- know the different sound of go-go because it has changed for, you know, newer acts?
JOHNSONWell, I love the new sound as well because with each group and each -- with each genre, each age group, I'm sorry...
JOHNSON...it changes and it adds a little more to it. So it -- for me, I love it. And now Rare Essence has been in -- has been fortunate enough where we have parents bring their kids...
JOHNSON...to the shows because they've grown up listening to the CD's or whatever, around the house. And as soon as they turned 21, you know, they're coming into where we are, too. So we get introduced to the other generations a lot of times by the parents.
2Oh, sounds good. All right.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call.
2All right, thanks.
NNAMDIKip Lornell, we've gotten to a point where go-go is recognized as part of the African-American cultural fabric in Washington, D.C. It's a strong component of the whole idea of Chocolate City. But it's my understanding that some people credit a white band as the first go-go band, Tommy Vann and the Professionals.
LORNELLKojo, you have stumped me. That's something that is outside of my experience. Now, where -- which one of your diligent researchers picked that one up? Because that's something that I really don't know anything about.
NNAMDITommy Vann and the Professionals were an all-white band that played all black music. And I'm trying to find out where they played it in the early days.
LORNELLI'm guessing late '60s, early '70s, would be my guess.
NNAMDIYeah, I don’t know. But they played at, apparently, in -- at dance hall gigs and dance halls where go-go's first started playing their music.
NNAMDII wanted to get back to what you were talking about, Big G, when you talked about the neighborhood in which you grew up. What was that called, Heritage Hall, again?
GLOVERNo, Celebrity Hall.
GLOVERIt was on the corner of Georgia and Morgan.
GLOVERGeorgia and Morgan, right.
NNAMDIAnd I remember when I was doing television in those days, the big problem that people had in those days were kids 12, 13 years old, sneaking into Celebrity Hall and hanging out until 2:00, 3:00 o'clock in the morning. Were you one of those?
GLOVERI was one of those. Yeah, definitely, was one of those kids.
NNAMDIYeah, hanging out until late in the morn -- and that for me was when go-go music really starting taking hold among young people in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIOn to Brent, in Northern Virginia. Brent, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRENTAll right, I just was calling to tell everybody, what's up and it's good to hear go-go being -- getting this exposure. I've been involved in the go-go scene for probably 30 years. And I can just say there is nothing like it. From -- I mean, you can't go in there and not feel the rhythm and, you know, just -- it overcomes you. And, again, it's something everybody needs to experience because once you go, you'll never stop.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Andre, what do the crowds look like at most of your shows? Would you say that go-go is something that's accessible to people outside of the black community? I know when I was asked to speak to freshman at American University and I played some go-go for them, they were all up and dancing and this was a predominately white crowd.
JOHNSONYeah, it is. It depends on where the groups are playing, though. If we're doing Tradewinds, then more than likely it's going to be a predominately African-American crowd. But when we go to Dine 30 Club, it's 50/50. So it's all depending on where the club is.
NNAMDILike it or not, go-go has a reputation for attracting violence. We talked with D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier about how her department tries to stay up to speed on which bands are playing where. At one point, Prince George's County shut down several clubs where a lot of go-go performances take place. What concerns do you have about go-go fitting into this whole story line about violence? First you, Andre.
JOHNSONWell, I think that it's unfair for go-go to get blamed for a lot of things that are going on in the world today. We just happened to be, you know, a part of the society and all of that. So it's not fair for that, but we go through extraordinary measures to make sure that our patrons...
NNAMDII wanted you to talk about that.
JOHNSON...are safe, from having handheld metal detectors, going through an airport style metal detector. Certain clubs you have to pull your shoes off, certain clubs you can't bring a purse or anything in, as well as having no less than 12 to 15 bouncers and then another eight to 10 police officers outside patrolling the outside as well as the inside of the club. That's a lot of security. In some of these areas that we're playing at, we hire more off-duty cops than there's patrol in that section of the city. We have more police at this one club, but that's all to make sure that the patrons are safe.
NNAMDIBig G, I know that you were shot once on stage while you were performing with Backyard Band in Langley Park. How do you respond when people tell you they have concerns about violence at go-go events?
GLOVERWell, like Andre said, it's kind of crazy that we get the blame for it because of our music and what we do. It's pretty much the people. If somebody has something they going to do, it could be a rave party, it can be an Anita Baker concert. It's going to happen. It's going to happen. So you know, I try to push it to -- they call me one of the preachers of go-go because I always preach non-violence. But it still happens, you know. And you get jealous people, sometime, and it just goes the wrong way sometime.
NNAMDIAnd a lot of times, people are just coming to have a good time, but they have beefs that have nothing to do with what's going on onstage, they just happen to see the people there and things break out. How do you, as a woman in that situation, deal with it yourself, Cherie?
MITCHELLLike the rest -- like White Boy and G had said, it has nothing to do with the music. People have problems or things or issues that they deal with before they come to the club. And you know -- and it's a shame that we get blamed for the number of violence and things like that, that happens at our shows. The same thing happens at rock concerts as well, but they don't really put a magnifying glass to that. As a female, the venues that I play, I feel pretty safe. As White Boy had mentioned, there's plenty of security. And we also try to play for a clientele that, I'm not going to say, that has class or anything, but just, you know, folks that -- well, I'm not going to even mention...
NNAMDII know exactly what you're talking about. You're talking about you're trying to play for a clientele for people who appreciate the music first.
MITCHELLAnd an older crowd as well.
NNAMDIOlder crowd. Which brings me to this, Andre, before I go back to the phones because a lot of people are waiting. I say one generation, but the more I think of it, go-go really spans, like, three generations now, isn't it?
JOHNSONIt is actually three generations.
NNAMDIYes, three generations. Is that correct, Kip Lornell?
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Chris in Raleigh, N.C. Chris, you must be listening to us online, thanks for your call.
CHRISHello, great show. And I was a student at University of Maryland back in the early '80s and we had a very enlightened director named Deter Zimmer who was always careful to -- he was a big Earth, Wind and Fire fan and wanted to incorporate Earth, Wind and Fire into our arrangements. But I just remember going to D.C. many times and I would hear a bucket band going and I would have to go find it. And money can't buy happiness, but it can buy a bucket and some sticks. And it's impossible to be unhappy when you're part of a rhythm machine. So I think that is -- workshops that bring people in to expose them to that and put some sticks in their hand, I think is a very liberating experience.
NNAMDIOkay, thank you very much for you call. You've got to have some chops as a musician, though, to get into go-go. This is music that's performed -- the rhythms can be complicated. What concerns do you have about young people having access to the musical education that will allow them to carry on the baton for the music in future generations, Andre?
JOHNSONWell, as far as being a musician, go-go or otherwise, I feel like you should be well rounded. I enjoy, you know, a lot of music, a lot of different music, R & B hip-hop, rock and roll, a little classical, a little country. So you -- if you want to be a well rounded musician -- and I learned this from when I was going to U.D.C. in Calvin Jones, Jazz Lab Band. I learned it, that -- there. He told me that, look, you have to be well rounded if you want to be successful in music because there's only so many times that you can rehash the same idea. You have to have another idea to be able to move onto.
NNAMDII'd be interested as a musicologist, Kip Lornell, in your analysis of go-go music and the musical skills that it involves.
LORNELLI would certainly second that and I would also express some concern in general in education in the U.S. but particularly in Washington D.C. and some of the surrounding suburbs in the lack of musical education in the elementary schools. I think it's going to be something that will haunt us in years to come in the same way that arts education know the things that tend to be marginalized.
LORNELLFolks just aren't as exposed to performing on instruments or vocal techniques as widely as they could. And of course the exception to that here in Washington D.C. is just north of Georgetown, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. But if you go to a lot of the other schools in Washington D.C., the de-emphasis on the arts is something that does cause me a great deal of concern.
NNAMDICherie, how did going to the Duke Ellington School for the Arts help you?
MITCHELLOh, it helped me in many ways. I took lessons prior to that and so when I went to Duke Ellington, I was already advanced, so to speak. And there I learned so much classical, jazz and, as White Boy had mentioned, that you have to be well-rounded. We had speakers like Wynton Marsalis that would come to our school and he would talk to us about jazz, jazz, jazz, jazz, jazz. Well, me, I loved R & B. I love hip-hop. I love gospel, classical. And all of that has helped me to be the musician that I am today.
NNAMDIHow about you, G, what did you have to learn about music outside of just being a fan of go-go in order to participate?
GLOVERWell, I had to learn -- well, my mom, she played all of the old school music -- my older brother. It's like Grover Washington, you know, the Gap Band, you know, Parliament, Funkadelic, you know. Just like my mom was a musical person all -- like, she'd get off work on Friday, she'd make the fish for us. She's just playing her music. She in her own world. So we had to know -- like I said, you just got to be rounded.
GLOVERAnd also I played French horn, you know, mellophone. I also wanted to be this -- in that world of music period 'cause, you know, just the sound of music and just being around it. You have to be able to touch all different elements of music to be able to capture that sound and capture that moment on stage.
NNAMDIHow does that kind of performance compare with your performance as an actor in "The Wire" and in "Treme?"
GLOVERWell, like "The Wire," it was kinda like that life of Slim Charles was almost like my life really. You know what I mean?
NNAMDII know that.
GLOVERYou know, and it was like just growing up and just being shot at a young age, you know, being shot at 12. And just the culture of music, go-go, just being right there -- everything is right there on point. It was just like it was a transition, but it wasn't. It just was a little bit more study. You just had to -- just like getting married to the script. And it was like, okay, this is what I wanna do. And it's just the same as music, you know what I mean, but it's like music is your passion, your love.
GLOVERYou have to be there and just both you have to study. But like there's nothing like having that adrenaline on that stage with them people grabbing you and pulling you. It's something different. You -- acting is like action and it's cut and then you -- that person is over there, you get your tuna fish and your water.
NNAMDICompared to being on a stage, it's almost lonely.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, if you have calls, stay on the line. We'll get to your call. But we still have a couple of lines open. You can call us at 800-433-8850. We're discussing go-go. What do you think people can learn about life in Washington by investing time listening to go-go or attending a go-go show that they wouldn't learn from a typical tour on the Mall? 800-433-8850, or go to our website kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on D.C.'s go-go music scene. We are talking with "Sweet Cherie" Mitchell. She's a singer, pianist and composer who's performed with Chuck Brown, E.U. and several other go-go acts. Kip Lornell is a musicologist and professor at George Washington University. He's author of the book "The Beat: Go-Go Music From Washington D.C." Anwan Glover is a musician, a member of the group "Backyard Band." He's also an actor who's had roles in HBO's "The Wire and "Treme." He's also known as G or Big G. Andre Johnson is a founding member of the band Rare Essence. He's also known as White Boy.
NNAMDIOver the years, go-go's flirted with mainstream popularity a number of times. Spike Lee was a nationwide cheerleader for the EU song, "Da Butt." Nelly's sample "Bustin' Loose" when he recorded his hit song "Hot in Here." The Roots got a go-go beat kinda song with Wale a few years ago and even played it on David Letterman. Let's take a listen.
NNAMDIDespite all of this, go-go has remained a local phenomenon to D.C. What do you think is keeping go-go a D.C. thing and keeping it from becoming a bigger thing? Let me start with you, Kip Lornell.
LORNELLI know Charles Stephenson, my coauthor on the go-go book "The Beat," and I have talked about that...
NNAMDIAnd my friend of more than 30 years.
LORNELLYeah, we had to get Charles in there somewhere. I think that a lot of it has to do with song writing. And that's been one of the biggest, I think, bugaboos in keeping go-go in Washington D.C. It's such a live performance medium that you have to appreciate it live. And if you're gonna, you know, get the music geographically disbursed beyond Washington D.C. it's got to be more than music that is related to live performances. And I think that's where a songwriter could come in and think that's where, to my thinking, the main problem with go-go getting outside of Washington is better and more formative song writing.
NNAMDIAre you hopeful that a hip-hop artist like Wale can eventually bridge the gap between mainstream and go-go, Andre?
JOHNSONYeah, yeah, I am. I think that by having those different combinations it'll expose people that wouldn't otherwise listen to it. It'll expose them to it. And once they get exposed to it more than likely we'll get them. You know, once we get them in the club you walk in a skeptic but you walk out a fan.
NNAMDIWithout a doubt. Here's Suzanne in Washington D.C. Hi, Suzanne.
SUZANNEHi, Kojo. How are you?
SUZANNEGood, good. I’m calling because I love go-go and we're going to be featuring some of D.C.'s greatest go-go bands once again at this year's Safeway Barbecue Battle down on Pennsylvania Avenue on June 25 and 26. We'll have Chuck Brown performing on Saturday night for the 11th year in a row. He'll be headlining that stage. And on Sun...
NNAMDIWho else you got?
NNAMDIWho else do you have?
SUZANNEWe have Subtle Thoughts and Junkyard Band will be performing for the first time on Sunday, June 26.
NNAMDIAll right. And I should've mentioned that Wale's been touring with the D.C. go-go band UCD...
NNAMDI...which is very popular among young people these days. Suzanne, thank you so much for your call. Here is Pam in Washington D.C. Hi, Pam, your turn.
PAMHow you doing?
PAMI had to turn the radio down. I'm sorry. Kojo.
PAMYou guys know where the term go-go comes from?
NNAMDINo. Not Smoky Robinson's "Going to a Go-Go."
PAMNo, not "Going to a Go-Go." I've been with go-go 30 years. I love it. It's my -- I go everywhere and brag about it. But when Chuck and the other bands got started they used to play all night long. And the deal was they never stopped and you couldn't stop dancing. So they tried to see who would fall out first, the band or the go-go people -- the people that's dancing.
NNAMDISo they just kept going. That's why they call it a go...
PAMThey just kept going. They'd start at 12:00 and they'd go 'til 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning...
PAMClub La Burn, Barlow Road (sounds like) all of those places.
NNAMDIIs she on the point, Andre?
JOHNSONYep, right on.
NNAMDIGot it exactly right. Kip, it's my understanding that you feel that go-go has a lot in common with hardcore punk music that rose up in D.C. around the same time. Bands like Fugazi and Bad Brains. I'm sure there's some people who would say, what in the world do those two things have in common?
LORNELLWell, I think, besides the fact the geographical proximity of hardcore punk and go-go, there are a couple things. One is the esthetic of performing at great length...
NNAMDILike Pam mentioned.
LORNELL...perform with a lot of energy and a really different emphasis, but an equally strong emphasis, on the importance of live percussion and rhythms. So I think those are three things that help promote hardcore punk with go-go and the fact that they both kind of arose at similar times, kind of reaching a wider audience around town starting in the late '70s and well into the early 1980s. So those kind of -- they both flowered at a similar time as well.
NNAMDIG, Andre, Cherie, have you guys had any interaction over the years with people who came up in that punk scene or played with other kinds of music around here?
GLOVERWell, right up by Howard University is a club called Chuck and Billy's. And I met a lot of guys back then in that club that grew up back in the '60s and the '70s and talked about all the punk bands. And when Chuck first started, The Senators -- The Young Senators and the Howard Theater where my grandmother performed at, Taylor Brown from back in like (sounds like) Tempest Court and all those places like that. So I do my research and as a kid I asked a lot of questions and also I learned a lot from Chuck performing with him and Kilimanjaro.
NNAMDIAnd that photo that appeared in the Washingtonian Magazine of a customer at Chuck and Billy's who looked like me. That was me as a matter of fact. Here is John in Alexandria, Va. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNThanks for having me, it's a great show. So I grew up in Alexandria in the '90s, graduated from TC Williams. We used to go see (sounds like) Jay Lie down at the Icebox, but they were playing at schools like Episcopal High School and St. Steve and St. Agnes where you could never picture go-go. What happened to all that? I mean, I remember it on the radio so much and, you know, it was the -- Sugar Bear worked at TC back then. It was the biggest thing to us growing up as kids. And I feel like I just -- I don't see it out there as much as it used to.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Andre?
JOHNSONWell, I guess people's tastes have changed just a little. They're not -- and they're not having the groups. There were times where we would be performing five times in a weekend. We would do a high school early Friday and then a club Friday night, another high school early Saturday and then another club Saturday night and then a different club on Sunday. So we -- and we've been to all of the high schools in the area from Richard Montgomery to Einstein, out to TC Williams and everything else.
NNAMDICherie, the length of go-go performances. How does that wear on you after a while, especially where White Boy talking about you gotta do all these performances in one night?
MITCHELLYeah, it wears a lot on you if you wearing 3-inch heels.
NNAMDII was about to say 'cause you gotta dance backwards in high heels when you're doing this.
MITCHELLAnd it's all about the performance, you know. I have a set of flats on the side, trust me.
NNAMDI...that you got to wear in between shows. Here's Steve in Washington D.C. Steve, your turn.
STEVEFirst, I'd like to say go-go's missed -- everyone misses Lil Benny. I grew up on Lil Bennie and Rare Essence. Love you White Boy, love the group.
JOHNAnd I just wanted to say my family's from the southwest, from Texas and back home, you have a lot of blues and jazz. So it was interesting when we migrated here to D.C. and got introduced to go-go. Man, I just -- I fell in love with it and still love it to this day. I'm a (word?) professional attorney and I play -- I have several -- I got about 15 CDs in my office.
JOHNSo when I'm -- when the partners are away and (unintelligible) go-go is playing right in my office. It's just phenomenal and I think it just really -- it ties a lot to our roots being African Americans. And, you know, coming from mother land that's why the percussion is so heavy and the rhythms are just so tight.
JOHNAnd just like to make another quick comment. I agree with the earlier caller. When I was growing up here in D.C. when we transitioned here, a lot of outdoor concerts and everything -- used to go to Fort DuPont a lot, Evans Grill, just all those great places. And I would love to see that, you know, happen again. And I love the new sound and I call Backyard the new sound because that just -- when I hear Backyard that throws me back to the old Mass Extinction, Peace Makers, EU, those good old days. So Kojo...
JOHN...love the show and love (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDISteve, word to the wise. Word to the wise, Steve. Play some go-go for the partners in your law firm. They might like it. Loosen them up a little bit. Thank you very much for your call. Here is Laly (sp?) in Washington D.C. Laly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LALYHi. Yeah, thank you so much for this show, Kojo. Go-go's been a huge part of my life and I wondered how just -- I saw ABM the other day and they blew me away with their sort of -- their energy and I just wanted to hear more about the Bounce Beat stuff going on right now. 'Cause that's the most exciting music I've seen in many, many, many, many years in any realm. And I see a lot of music around town, so I just wanted to hear what folks are thinking about those bands and not young, young, young generation coming up right now.
NNAMDIAny thoughts on the Bounce Beat, Andre?
JOHNSONI love it. I love Bounce. What I would like to do is see them get a bit more creative. But I love the Bounce Beat. We've done a Bounce Beat record. That's how much (laugh) -- that's how much I love it.
NNAMDIHow about you, G?
GLOVERWell, I did -- I do it like once a year and then like for polo we did it the first time we did it. And then I just did it Saturday for my birthday because we played a all-ages thing for the kids and had my kids in there. And they love it. Like it goes with it. It's just like White Boy said, a little bit more structure with it and just to -- you know, just to grasp it 'cause it's all over the place.
NNAMDIBelated birthday greetings to you, G. How do you like the Bounce Beat, Cherie?
MITCHELLYeah, I like it. I think it's cool, the young crowd and everything. I have a female band called Belladonna and there's a segment that I do where we incorporate the Bounce Beat just 'cause the crowd that we have is not just one age group, you know. They're a couple of young folks that like to come hear us play too. So we like to appease to their tastes as well.
NNAMDIJust gave me an idea for another show at Belladonna, The Ladies of Go-Go. That's to come in the future.
NNAMDI"Sweet Cherie" Mitchell is a singer, pianist and composer who's performed with several go-go groups. "Sweet Cherie," thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAnwan Glover is a member of the group "Backyard Band." He's also an actor who's had roles in HBO and "The Wire." G, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAndre Johnson is a founding member of Rare Essence. Good to see you, White Boy.
JOHNSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Kip Lornell is a musicologist and professor at George Washington. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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