By: E'Niya, Grade 7

The History of the Musical Genre Go-Go

If you stand on any corner in our nation’s capital, close your eyes and listen to your heartbeat. You will feel the blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and old school hip-hop…the pulse of Go-Go.

According to the National Museum of American History, “Chuck Brown began laying the foundation for a new and innovative sound in Washington, DC in the 1970’s called Go-Go music.” This is why we Washingtonians call Chuck Brown the Godfather of Go-Go. The musical genre Go-Go is an important part of specifically African American history and, in general, American history. It is a blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and old school hip-hop. Also, it represents African American culture and how creative we are as a people. Go-Go is the one musical genre Washingtonians cannot get enough of, especially Washingtonians from African American communities.

The musical genre Go-Go is one of the best coping mechanisms for African American Washingtonians when racially profiled or oppressed and is a great way to come together as a community. When it is performed live it grabs the crowd’s attention, both young and old, in order to come together as one. Go-Go is affected by gentrification, one of the biggest problems in Washington, DC today. According to The New York Times, “In the summer of 1838, a white Presbyterian minister living in Jamaica complained that enslaved people had organized a ‘ball’ and their ‘singing, drumming, and dancing disturbed the neighborhood, but one enslaved man wasn’t having it. He told the minister that ‘He might do what he like in his own place.’” The enslaved man is right and you shouldn’t get upset if people are enjoying themselves or representing their culture.

In April 2019, residents of luxury apartments on Georgia and Florida Avenue, NW, complained about the sound of Go-Go music playing and also threatened a Metro PCS store owner known for setting amplified speakers on the corners to play loud Go-Go music as people pass by. This made Washingtonians upset because the new luxury apartment residents were complaining about Black people expressing their culture for their community by dancing while walking by or honking their car horns when cruising by. Black Washingtonians started to take to the streets and protest. There were also tweets and hashtags about it—the main hashtag that went viral was #DontMuteDC. After that, the store turned its music back up.

According to a one article: “Dubbed Moechellaa name that combined the Coachella music festival with ‘Moe,’ a pronoun for a friend exclusively used in DCthe gathering invited people to demonstrate against gentrifiers who have been fighting the city’s native Go-Go music. DC ‘s paling population was most recently exemplified by a tone-deaf white man who wondered aloud on live TV why Howard University couldn’t just relocate to make room for other people who look like him. How should a young child like me feel when someone is negatively talking about the music I have grown to love, and the city I call home? Should I start to think of myself as a stranger, and he a native?

Go-Go shouldn’t be silenced because it’s one of the main things that makes my city unique. It is important to us and has a lot of cultural value, so all Washingtonians new and old should embrace it. According to The New York Times, “Washington DC has gentrified faster than any other city in the United States of America. More than 20,000 black Washingtonians were displaced between 2000 and 2013. Music education has been stripped from many schools. The Metropolitan Police Department’s “Go-Go report” of where bands were playing helped criminalize Go-Go culture. Yet Go-Go survived, serving as an economic engine and a multi-million dollar industry employing hundreds of Washingtonians and maintaining a musical tradition with roots in west Africa. City officials are now answering the #DontMuteDC call. This initiative could affirm Go-Go’s economic vitality and central place in the culture and history of the nation’s capital.” The gentrifiers should care more about our music because it plays a huge part in Washington, DC and American history.

Go-Go is important to me personally because I love to sing. I have been singing since I was a baby. I remember the first time I listened to Go-Go. I was with my nana listening to the radio when she started blasting the music, dancing and singing along. That makes it even more important to me because I saw my nana having a good time and it is a memory I will always cherish. At first I didn’t like Go-Go but then my nana explained the history behind it and I started to look into it more because I love to learn about new things—especially when it’s about black history. I remember when I started to love Go-Go music I started banging on things like pans, counter tops, and desks when I was at school. That’s when I started wanting a drum set, but then I later realized that wasn’t something I really wanted to do, so I started to sing more and practice because my nana used to tell me that practice makes perfect. Go-Go is very important to me because it’s something I can remember and honor my nana by. Go-Go plays a huge part in history, it makes my city unique, and it means more to us than gentrifiers would ever understand.


Originally published in We Matter: Notes from DC’s Generation Z.