Within the last 48 hours, the soul and funk communities have lost two of their dearest pioneers; The Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown and The Queen of Disco Soul, Donna Summer. These two influential Blacks artists both went through numerous disappointments in the music industry before gaining international fame and becoming influential figures in two of America’s most popular party and dance genres. Even in this time of grief, they both serve as encouraging examples of how persistence can pay off in the music industry.
Chuck Brown was the creator and composer of the Washington, D.C. based sub-genre known as go-go. Brown and his band combined elements of funk, soul, hip hop, and Afro-Cuban rhythms as well as call and response chants to create their unique, body-moving sound. I can remember my first time hearing Brown’s 1978 world-wide hit “Bustin’ Loose” and thinking to myself, Is this a second-line song on the radio?! The energy of the horns, the funk of the guitars, the undeniable groove of the drums and percussion (especially the roto toms), and the authentic passion of Chuck’s vocals made me immediately feel as though I was in the middle of a go-go concert in mid summer.
The genre of go-go was one that hit moderate commercial appeal is the late 70s and early 80s, but I believe that it didn’t gain more popularity because the true essence of go-go can not be captured in a recording; its high energy, party vibes must be felt in a live performance. Almost every commercially released go-go song is not of a studio performance but of a live show recording. In 2009, after performing with my friend, gospel artist Craig Adams at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, I got the opportunity to witness a live Chuck Brown set for the first time. That year, Mr. Brown was in the middle of a difficult bout with cancer, but the then-72-year-old gave a show with so much passion and flare that he had to sit down after every song. His command of the band and the audience was beyond inspiring. “That’s what I call controlling a crowd; that’s what I want to do,” I told myself. To date, Mr. Brown’s songs have been sampled across the board; everything from electronic to pop, hip hop to funk to dubstep has been influenced by his sound. His passing is truly a major loss for the American music community, but his legacy will live on through go-go and much more.
Donna Summer, the Queen of Disco Soul, has achieved success on the Billboard Charts like no other artist has. She, quietly, is the first and only artist to have three consecutive double albums reach No. 1 on the US Billboard charts, and she is also the only artist to date to have four (4) number one singles on the US Billboard charts in a 13-month period. Her story especially hits home for me because, although she attempted to score a recording contract in the U.S. as a teenager singing in and around Boston, it wasn’t until she was signed by a European soul label, Groovy Records, that she started on a path of musical success. Her first album included musicians of Austrian, German, and Belgium decent and, at only 21 years old, she was the number one artist in Belgium, The Netherlands, and the UK. Of course we all know she later went on to record hits such as “Hot Stuff” and, what many consider the biggest disco song ever, “Last Dance”. As a true testament to Ms. Summer’s vocal versatility, she won 5 Grammy awards, all for different categories ranging from “Best R&B Performance” to “Best Rock Vocal Performance”. Her decision to take her music to Europe was one that not only set her apart from most artists in the late 60s, but also catapulted her into world-wide commercial stardom. It is success stories like hers that motivated me to initiate my current independent European tour, a venture which has afforded me opportunities to perform on stages in The Netherlands and Germany. I can only pray that it will bolster my career as much as is did that of the now late, great Donna Summer.
The contributions of both these great American artists are too monumental to ever be forgotten. May they rest in peace and soul, knowing that their creativity and passion will forever live on in our hearts.