Panel Discusses DC's “Heartbeat” — Go-Go

The only music native to D.C. is being celebrated with a panel discussion at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., Saturday afternoon.

This 1970s creation is as important now as it ever was for the black communities of D.C., according to Charles Stephenson, who co-authored "The Beat! Go-Go Music From Washington, D.C."

Go-go is the basis of social interaction for young people in D.C.'s black communities, Stephenson said.

"Go-go has been around so long that you have the different art forms," he said. "You have the grown and sexy, you have the bounce, you have the old school, you have jazz. So you have different elements of go-go right now."

Stephenson calls the music the heartbeat of D.C., and the music starts with the beat, but just as important as the music is the culture.

"Go-go is very interactive," said Kip Lornell, who teaches music at George Washington University and co-authored "The Beat!" with Stephenson. "If you go to a go-go performance, there is a lot of call and response between the audience and the people in the band, and in fact, it's a lot of times hard to tell, in a performance of go-go, who the performers are because it's really the crowd and the band itself."

In the mid-1970s, Godfather of Go-Go Chuck Brown put together the basic elements of go-go:

  • Nonstop performances
  • Afro-Caribbean percussion
  • Talking

The talkers -- not rappers -- are storytellers who basically tell the stories about what's going on in D.C., Stephenson said. Their interaction with the crowd is crucial to go-go events.

"It's something you find in African-American music in general, but as one of the musicians said to me a couple years ago, 'If you don't have a good audience at go-go, you don't have a go-go,'" Lornell said.

Stephenson and Lornell will be on the panel Saturday afternoon. It's hosted by Councilman Harry Thomas from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Historical Society on K Street at Mount Vernon Square.

The event will include clips from "Jazz in the Diamond District,"  a movie filmed in D.C. about a singer who finds success a pressure through go-go.

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