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Go-Go Music Finds its Way into Classroom Curriculums

Special to WI Melanie Henderson | 7/13/2011, 2:19 p.m.
The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum...

The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum recently hosted "Evolution of the Go-Go Beat in Washington, D.C.,"the second in a series of programs devoted to the District's homegrown genre of music.

Go-Go music, the history of which has been carefully chronicled in "The Beat! Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C.," has West African roots and is recognized for its infectious heartbeat-based rhythm, courtesy of its signature instruments -- the congo, cowbell, and drum.

Kip Lornell and Charles Stephenson Jr., co-authors of "The Beat," in partnership with Teaching for Change (TFC), invited local teachers and the D.C. community to listen to talks from Go-Go artists.

Sweet Cherie, a Howard University graduate and keyboard player for the all-female Go-Go band Be'la Dona, spoke highly of the Go-Go community, describing it as "family." Having just returned from North Carolina where she performed with Chuck Brown -- the Godfather of Go-Go -- Sweet Cherie presented several audio recordings as evidence of Go-Go's past and continued prevalence in other musical genres like R&B, pop and gospel. The audience's response ranged from toe-tapping to nostalgic grins as Sweet Cherie played excerpts from Grace Jones' "Slave to the Rhythm;" Jill Scott's "It's Love;" Beyonce's "Crazy in Love;" and Kirk Franklin's "Before I Die."

Gregory "Sugar Bear" Elliot, lead speaker and bass player for Experience Unlimited (E.U.), whose '80s hit, "Da Butt" was featured in Spike Lee's School Daze, detailed the group's quick rise from playing in small local Go-Go venues to performing in 20,000-person capacity stadiums. He also expressed disappointment with the school system's removal of music programs from public education, claiming, "there may be many Miles Davises among us, but we'd never know it" for lack of access to standard musical training.

While Faycez U Know provided a lively performance on the museum's grounds, about 20 teachers remained indoors developing a Go-Go curriculum.

The teachers separated into groups of three to brainstorm interactive ways to address the five core areas of knowledge based on Go-Go music. In doing so, they used "The Beat" as a primary text source.

As the teachers regrouped, they shared ideas inspired by the homegrown sound. Three teachers -- Michele Bollinger from Wilson Senior High School, Monet Cooper from Capital City Public Charter School and Michael Bolds from Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy -- talked about engaging students in a long-term multi-media project where they would create documentaries to include original photos, and interviews.

Felecia Wright from Anacostia High School thought students could use research and critical thinking skills to explore the relationship between Hip-Hop and Go-Go -- including why one has gained more national attention than the other.

Teachers can still get involved by contacting TFC at: teachthebeat@teachingforchange.org.