D.C. Gives Chuck Brown Rousing Sendoff

Barrington M. Salmon | 6/6/2012, 11:35 a.m.

If there was ever any doubt about the depth of the affection D.C. has for Chuck Brown, last Thursday's memorial service and the thousands of people who bid the chief architect of Go-Go goodbye put that to rest.

At the Celebration of Life at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest, more than 10,000 people - dignitaries, celebrities, government officials and ordinary Washingtonians - crowded into a massive auditorium for the almost four-hour service. In keeping with Brown's wishes, the memorial was more party than funeral, more festive than somber.

Veronica Ambrose, her daughter Miya, 33, and granddaughter Kaiara, 17, stood in line for more than two hours to get in.

"Chuck is definitely a legend. I grew up with his music," said Ambrose, a 55-year-old program coordinator who works at Howard University. "I like his spirit. He's a very humble man who showed a lot of love. I wanted to be a part of history."

"Most importantly, I have the Go-Go swing," she joked. "I stood in line for two hours because I just like what he stood for," the Northeast resident said.

Brown, 75, fell ill in March, was hospitalized and died May 16 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Last Tuesday, an estimated 12,000 people paid their respects to Brown who lay in state at the Howard Theatre in the Shaw community. City officials, Go-Go legends, aficionados of D.C.'s singular music, and others folks walked past Brown's golden casket during a day-long public viewing.

Inside the Convention Center, a mixture of church music and Go-Go beats suffused the auditorium. Brown's casket on a catafalque stood before the stage, surrounded by large circular wreathes of orange and white. Along the length of the casket lay a bed of stunning white flowers. Seven large screens flashed images of Brown regaling the people he loved so much, others captured his trademark grin and his effusive, natural and unaffected manner, while more were snapshots of the Go-Go icon at various periods along his musical journey.

The largely African-American crowd was an almost even mix of young and old. People's dress ranged from funereal black suits and dresses to the very gaudy, from colorful summer dresses and sun hats to T-shirts and jeans. Many wore T-shirts with Chuck's visage, his sayings, song titles and expressions, such as "Wind Me up Chuck!" and "Old School Playa: Go-Go for Life."

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then it was on display at the memorial service where a number of older men sported wraparound sunglasses and fedoras Brown popularized. Others wore silk do-rags, zoot suits, vests and baggy dress pants. And more than a few strolled around with carved wooden canes.

Radio and TV personality Donnie Simpson officiated, and reminded the crowd frequently just how much Brown loved D.C. and its residents.

"Chuck was always absolutely about D.C.," he said. "The music he created was for D.C. but [others] had to come here to get it. I have mad love for that ... The Godfather of Go-Go - we're gonna celebrate him today."