First of a two-part series
When the Summer Spirit Festival kicks off on Saturday, Aug. 5, concert promoter Darryll Brooks promises that the “DMV will be in full effect” as some of the area’s most celebrated entertainers join nationally-known artists for two days of family fun and finger-popping music guaranteed to get fans out of their seats.
Those who attend the two-day concert and come from cities far from the Greater Washington Area may not be as familiar with local favorites Wisdom Speeks, DJ Kool, Big Tony and Trouble Funk or EU featuring Sugar Bear. But by the time the annual festival comes to a close, it’s fairly certain they’ll not only remember these names but will hunger for more of their music.
But just who are these “unsung” superstars that have been using their musical talents and creativity to bring joy, laughter and songs of celebration to the DMV and beyond for so many years? Let’s take a look.
Wisdom Speeks: The Master of ‘Global Soul’
Producing music since the age of 15, Wisdom Speeks [WS], aka Whop Craig, has been illuminating audiences with a unique style of music that he calls “global soul” since 2009 when he first organized his band. Their goal, he says, has always been to share a message that encourages “living, loving and laughing with a positive heart.
“Tomorrow is not promised to anyone so I tell the truth because with wisdom there’s hope that opportunity can bring peace,” Wisdom Speeks said.
The band’s fan base includes those young and old but they all have become enamored with the WS brand of musical storytelling and distinctive rhythm beats. Wisdom Speeks, who followed in the footsteps of the late, great Chuck Brown as the sound of the DC lottery, says he felt more comfortable writing music and developing concepts for others early in his career. But then things changed.
“I saw myself as a coach but one day I found myself standing at the mic. I guess I had to become a player and represent what I had been creating. It was certainly a form of music and style that I could bring the best to the people,” said Wisdom Speeks, a native of the District now residing in Upper Marlboro.
He says he can’t wait to get on stage at the Summer Spirit Festival.
“We’re going to provide a gumbo of funk, jazz, reggae, hip-hop, salsa along with that D.C. street beat,” he said. “That’s our culture. And it’s really an honor to be representing the DMV alongside of folks like EU and Trouble Funk. Then, to be in the company of people like Babyface and Fantasia is something that’s wonderful and amazing. It’s hard to explain how I feel.”
“I’ve never been what you’d call ‘the artist’ but people seem to like what we bring to the stage. We performed last year and had to come back for an encore. Now that we’re returning for our second year, we promise one thing: we’re bringing our very best,” he said.
Wisdom Speeks recalls a time during his youth when he decided that he wanted to be part of the entertainment industry even though he wasn’t sure back then how it would happen.
“My dad took me to see B.B. King and I remember listening to him and feeling goose bumps run up and down my whole body. I looked at my father and told him ‘that’s what I want to do.'”
Go-Go’s Own Big Tony Has Much to be Thankful For
Big Tony, 57, grew up in Southeast with the majority of his formative years being spent in the projects. But he says the experiences he gleaned on the streets of Washington, D.C. would provide the foundation for he and his group, Trouble Funk, as they developed their “non-stop, percussion-driven, best-seen-live, experience the party, audience-participatory, call and response, grassroots, homegrown music called Go-Go.”
“We’re viewed as the worldwide ambassadors of Go-Go — a distant but older cousin of hip-hop — and for the past 30-plus years, we’ve taken this sound from the gritty streets of D.C. to the clubs of the nation and to festivals around the world,” said Tony “Big Tony” Fisher, Trouble Funk’s band leader, bassist and vocalist.
Bursting on the scene in 1978, Trouble Funk started out with Big Tony, along with Robert “Syke Dyke” Reed, James Avery, Taylor Reed, Emmett Nixon, Mack Carey, Timothy “Teebone” David, Chester Davis, Gerald Reed and David Rudd. They took over the musical landscape with songs that included: “Drop the Bomb,” the first Go-Go record released outside of D.C. (Sugar Hill Records), “Pump Me Up” and “So Early in the Morning.”
Big Tony says one of his fondest memories from his storied career includes the time he joined Dave Grohl on stage at the Kennedy Center when the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors with an all-star tribute that aired on ABC, “Taking the Stage: African American Music and Stories that Changed America.”
“That had to be one of best moments in my life,” said Big Tony who, just a few years ago, wondered if he had very long to live.
In 2003, Big Tony’s kidneys shut down. He would go on dialysis for the next 13 years, hoping and praying he says for a new kidney. Then, something wonderful happened.
“A friend had received a kidney transplant and pointed me in the direction of GW Hospital. I signed up, I prayed and I waited. But my body was wearing down. First, they thought they had a match but discovered that it wasn’t the right one. But I kept praying. About a week after my birthday (May 5), the hospital called again and told me ‘we think this is it.’ They were right. And last May I celebrated my first year as a successful kidney recipient. God is so good,” he said.
As for the style of music he and the band will bring to the Summer Spirit Festival, Big Tony says it’s almost “hypnotic.”
“Fans can expect an explosion on stage because we drop bombs,” he said with a laugh. “We bring high energy and while we do mostly Go-Go, we’re really best described as a funk music band that happens to play Go-Go. Of course, we do cover tunes for the DC folks. But we take to the road, we hit ’em hard with the original music. Go-Go comes from Washington, D.C. It was born here and there’s no other music like it. It has a lot of percussion and instrumental emphasis.”
“And one thing’s for certain: you can’t sit down on Go-Go.”
Next week in The Washington Informer, look for our interviews with Sugar Bear of EU and the club DJ master himself, DJ Kool, who will also be part of the Summer Spirit Festival lineup of local, show-stopping entertainers.