Chuck Brown, 75, the ‘Godfather of Go-Go’

Chuck Brown performed with his band in 2011 at the 20th St. Lucia Jazz Festival in Pigeon Island, Calif.
Chuck Brown performed with his band in 2011 at the 20th St. Lucia Jazz Festival in Pigeon Island, Calif.ANDREA DE SILVA/REUTERS

WASHINGTON - Chuck Brown, 75, the gravelly voiced bandleader who capitalized on funk’s percussive pulse to create go-go, the music that has soundtracked life in black Washington for more than three decades, died Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

The death, from complications from sepsis, was confirmed by his manager, Tom Goldfogle. Mr. Brown had been hospitalized for pneumonia.

Known as the “Godfather of Go-Go,’’ the performer, singer, guitarist, and songwriter developed his commanding brand of funk in the mid-1970s to compete with disco.

Like a DJ blending records, Mr. Brown used nonstop percussion to stitch songs together and keep the crowd on the dance floor, resulting in marathon performances that went deep into the night. Mr. Brown said the style got its name because “the music just goes and goes.’’


In addition to being go-go’s principal architect, Mr. Brown remained the genre’s most charismatic figure. On stage, his spirited call-and-response routines became a hallmark of the music, reinforcing a sense of community. As go-go became a point of pride for black Washingtonians, Mr. Brown became one of the city’s most recognizable figures.

“No single type of music has been more identified with Washington than go-go, and no one has loomed so large within it as Chuck Brown,’’ music critic Richard Harrington wrote in 2001.

Mr. Brown’s creation, however, failed to have the same impact outside the Beltway.

With his group the Soul Searchers, his signature hit “Bustin’ Loose’’ minted the go-go sound and spent four weeks atop the R&B singles chart.

“Bustin’ Loose’’ was “the one record I had so much confidence in,’’ Mr. Brown told the Post in 2001. “I messed with it for two years, wrote a hundred lines of lyrics and only ended up using two lines. . . . It was the only time in my career that I felt like it’s going to be a hit.’’


It was his biggest single, but in the 1980s “We Need Some Money,’’ “Go-Go Swing,’’ and “Run Joe’’ became local anthems.

While rap exploded across the country, go-go dominated young black Washington, with groups like Trouble Funk, Rare Essence, and Experience Unlimited following in Mr. Brown’s footsteps.

He performed less frequently in his final years, commenting on his golden years in rhyme.

“I’m not retired because I’m not tired. I’m still getting hired, and I’m still inspired,’’ he said in 2006.

Charles Louis Brown was born in Gaston, N.C. He never knew his father, Albert Louis Moody, a Marine. He took the surname of his mother, Lyla Louise Brown, a housekeeper.

Mr. Brown was married more than once and had several children. He also leaves his wife, Jocelyn Brown.