Politics & Prose Chevy Chase Patron Complains Parliament’s “Chocolate City” Is Racist
At a reading by local author Natalie Hopkinson Monday, Hopkinson’s go-go themed playlist was turned off after a customer took issue.
Natalie Hopkinson was at Chevy Chase bookstore Politics & Prose Monday to read from her new book, Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City, about the changing cultural landscape of DC and how it relates to the area’s go-go music. But in an ironic twist, Hopkinson’s musical playlist, which she’d created specially for the event, was turned off before the go-go got going.
The timing was coincidental, but the music was shut down when a female patron complained about the song that was playing, the 1975 Parliament ode to DC appropriately titled “Chocolate City.”
To accompany her reading, Hopkinson had planned to play songs that celebrated the legendary DMV-centric sound that is go-go, including a little funk courtesy of Parliament, hits from the late Chuck Brown, and more modern numbers from local groups such as Mambo Sauce and TCB.
“It was the first time I had played music in a store,” says Hopkinson. “I spoke to the owners about playing selections from a playlist, and they were excited about it.”
Not excited about it, however, was the Politics & Prose patron who complained about the lyrics to “Chocolate City” and asked that it be turned off.
“Not 30 seconds into my go-go playlist, a white woman went to the cashier to complain,” Hopkinson wrote in a blog post on her website. According to Hopkinson, the author was informed by a Politics & Prose employee that the woman said the song was racist and “demanded they stop playing it.”
Hopkinson says the CD then skipped to the next track, and the next before the management of the store turned off the music and the reading went on sans go-go.
The eclectic mix of funk, R&B, hip-hop, Caribbean, and Latin inspired sounds that are meshed together to form go-go became popular in the Washington area throughout the late ’70s, thanks in large part to Brown, known as the “Godfather of go-go.” It soon became the much-loved sound of the city, known for its large and influential African-American population.
Go-go, its relationship to black DC, and how the cultural shift of a much more “vanilla” Chocolate City has and will affect the genre are all themes explored in Hopkinson’s book, so an occurrence of this type is notable.
“Chevy Chase was never ‘Chocolate City,’ but I’m still shocked that this happened. I thought we were past this,” Hopkinson says. “Bookstores are about being open and not trying to silence ideas. It’s one thing for the woman to find it objectionable, but for the management to acquiesce and let the customer take control? That’s a terrible way to treat an author.”
Despite the mishap, Hopkinson says the reading went well, and she even decided to let a little music play toward the end of her reading.
In the words of Parliament frontman George Clinton on the hit deemed too offensive for the store: “God bless Chocolate City and its vanilla suburbs.”
A statement posted by the store’s owners on the Politics & Prose Tumblr account stated: “Politics & Prose does not censor or ban music or books, nor does the store allow one person’s point of view to silence a group discussion.” The statement also said the owners “regret that the music was turned off, however briefly.”
Update (added 08/02/12): According to a statement the Politics and Prose owners made on their Tumblr, the playlist Hopkinson made for the event was played in full after the reading and for the rest of the evening.