One day after Washington D.C. lost their most famous son and ambassador, disco fans lost one of their many queens (and arguably their best). Chuck Brown, the legendary Godfather of GoGo, died Wednesday in a Baltimore hospital from complications of pneumonia at the age of 75 and Donna Summer, the tall caramel beauty who helped legitimize disco in the mid and late 70s, passed away Thursday after a lengthy battle with cancer in Key West, Fla at 63 years old.
While Chuck Brown and Donna Summer have little in common on the surface, the genres of music they came to define are what ties them together. Rarely respected, shunned by the mainstream, still loved and adored by loyal listeners. GoGo and Disco are fundamentally as different as night and day, but the purpose they served was one in the same – to make you dance.
Chuck Brown, a North Carolina native but THE ambassador of Washington, D.C., helped develop GoGo in the 1960s and 1970s after his time in a Latin band, merging Latin drums with his lethal guitar and soul/jazz horns to create a sound that cannot be easily copied or even defined.
GoGo, save for a brief period of sampling and featuring in the mid 80s, never had a national run and that’s just fine with the D.C./MD/VA area. GoGo is theirs, more than an institution and tradition. It is the lifebeat of an area that has long had a style all its own. And Chuck Brown was the leader, a raspy baritone with soul who proudly carried the torch for his sound and his home until his dying day.
While GoGo was a invention of a talented musician, Disco had less than original beginnings. Loosely based off of the propulsive productions coming from Philadelphia International, Disco became the sound du jour of the second half of the 1970s, a sound that catered exclusively to women and gay men. And one of the people who came to define that sound was a statuesque woman with a great voice.
Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Donna Summer’s rise to fame in the mid 70s as a disco queen can best be described as the road less traveled. Dropping out of school to pursue a music career, she found it to be tough sledding when her family didn’t approve and a short stint with an unknown band didn’t pan out. So she went Germany to star in a production of Hair, stayed there for a few years and cut her first solo song.
“Love to love you baby,” is one of the most overtly sexual records of an era where sex sold en masse. Some stations refused to play the song due to Donna’s orgasmic cooing and panting throughout the song. However, the precedent was set and Donna Summer went on to have a long successful career with songs like “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls” and one of Disco’s crowning moments “Last Dance.”
While the mainstream frowned on Disco (Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross were two of its biggest detractors), no one could deny the rhythms were made for the restrained bodies of women and gay men, who were fighting for equal rights around the same time. Disco allowed those two parties to cut loose and have a great time.
Chuck Brown and Donna Summer unfortunately are gone now, but the music they promoted, performed and devoted their lives to live on and continue to meet their purpose of gettin down in the name of having a good time.