DC Jazz Fest Honors Chuck Brown With a Memorial Concert

The go-go legend gets special billing during this year’s festival.

By: Erin Keane Scott

If you didn’t get to pay your last respects to Chuck Brown when he lay in state at the Howard Theatre last month, you’ll get another chance at a special memorial concert honoring the local music legend this Friday. New Orleans band Brass-a-Holics were supposed to play with Brown as a special guest during their DC Jazz Fest performance, a part of the “Jazz in the ’Hoods” series. Instead, they’ll perform their concert at the Hamilton as a tribute to him along with special guests and local go-go legends Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott and Milton “Go Go Mickey” Freeman.

Heralded as the “godfather of go-go,” a title that nods to his pivotal role in creating the District’s unique brand of funk music, Brown was finally granted national recognition in 2011 when he was nominated for his first Grammy award for “best rhythm-and-blues-performance by a duo or group with vocals,” for his collaboration with Jill Scott and bassist Marcus Miller. He died of complications from pneumonia on May 16 at the age of 75.

Now in its eighth year, DC Jazz Fest offers 125-plus performances in more than 50 local venues and runs through June 10. In an effort to bolster the visibility of local musicians, the organizers created the “Jazz in the ’Hoods” series, featuring a bevy of DC artists including Brian Settles, Fred Foss, and others. (NPR has a good rundown with samples of songs from local performers here.) Venues include typical haunts such as Madam’s Organ as well as less obvious spaces such as Children’s National Medical Center.

Though the Brass-a-Holics hail from the Big Easy, they bring a flavor of jazz that is distinctly Washington. Their style of music combines NoLa’s unbeatable brass sound with go-go’s signature funky beat. They’re dedicating Friday’s performance to Brown and will, along with other special guests, cover his signature hits “We the People” and “Blow Your Whistle.”

Though the local music scene will never be the same without Chuck Brown, it’s arguable that it hadn’t been the same since he joined it. One only needs to walk down the stretch of Seventh Street, Northwest, near the newly refurbished Howard Theatre—known as “Chuck Brown Way”—to reminisce about where the shift he was responsible for began. Though Friday’s concert will hardly be the last local memorial to the man who brought us “Bustin’ Loose,” it’ll be a fine way to commemorate a voice that is already sorely missed.

Brass-a-Holics perform this Friday, June 8, at the Hamilton, with special guests Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott and Milton “Go Go Mickey” Freeman. Tickets ($27.50 to $38) are available through the Hamilton’s website. For more information about DC Jazz fest, visit dcjazzfest.org.