Go-Go Live

The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City

Go-Go Live

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 34 illustrations Published: May 2012

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Music > Popular Music, Sociology > Urban Studies

Go-go is the conga drum–inflected black popular music that emerged in Washington, D.C., during the 1970s. The guitarist Chuck Brown, the "Godfather of Go-Go," created the music by mixing sounds borrowed from church and the blues with the funk and flavor that he picked up playing for a local Latino band. Born in the inner city, amid the charred ruins of the 1968 race riots, go-go generated a distinct culture and an economy of independent, almost exclusively black-owned businesses that sold tickets to shows and recordings of live go-gos. At the peak of its popularity, in the 1980s, go-go could be heard around the capital every night of the week, on college campuses and in crumbling historic theaters, hole-in-the-wall nightclubs, backyards, and city parks.

Go-Go Live is a social history of black Washington told through its go-go music and culture. Encompassing dance moves, nightclubs, and fashion, as well as the voices of artists, fans, business owners, and politicians, Natalie Hopkinson's Washington-based narrative reflects the broader history of race in urban America in the second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first. In the 1990s, the middle class that had left the city for the suburbs in the postwar years began to return. Gentrification drove up property values and pushed go-go into D.C.'s suburbs. The Chocolate City is in decline, but its heart, D.C.'s distinctive go-go musical culture, continues to beat. On any given night, there's live go-go in the D.C. metro area.


“. . . Go-Go Live is a good read for DC residents and music lovers in general - if for no other reason than its subject matter. In the 40 year history of go-go music this is only the second book ever written about the genre. The first being the seminal The Beat by Charles Stephenson and Kip Lornell. Hopefully books like The Beat and Go-Go Live will inspire the next generation of go-go fans to record and document their own experiences about their city and its amazing indigenous music.” — Sidney Thomas, DC Examiner

Go-Go Live is a compelling, methodologically bold ethnographic history of a city and artistic form that have both received too little scholarly attention. And in the wake of Chuck Brown’s death, its content and style can be appreciated by academics and go-go fans alike.” — Antonio Ramirez, History News Network

“[I]t’s a shame that [Chuck] Brown wasn’t around to read the love, knowledge and understanding go-go, and black D.C. by extension, receive in Natalie Hopkinson’s Go-Go Live. . . . As Hopkinson makes clear, the life of urban black America involves issues that are far larger than music, but music is how black folk often work through them.” — Mark Reynolds, PopMatters

“Hopkinson shows the strength of the Black community in the eyes of its eventual displacement. Go-Go Live isn’t just the history of a genre of Black music; it’s the history of Black people in a certain region of America. It’s the history of Black America itself.” — Stephon Johnson, Amsterdam News

“Hopkinson's book is part requiem for a culture that she sees being cast aside by a changing DC, and part appreciation of its unlikely survival and evolution. Her interviewees are full of rich stories. . . .” — Mike Madden, Bookforum

“Natalie Hopkinson’s new book, Go-Go Live, gives the reader a great sense of this dynamic music. The book is simultaneously a history of this Washington, DC-based music and a critique of race in the United States. In addition, she provides a unique, blow-by-blow, annotated transcript of a legendary go-go concert, giving outsiders access to this musical and cultural phenomenon.” — Michael Starkey, Dominion New York

“The bottom line is: you don’t know the complete story of contemporary black music if you don’t know Go-Go. . . . This book is a good primer to get you along the way.” — David Baker, 410 Media

“There has been a lack of good writing about a cultural force as important as go-go in a major city. Hopkinson definitely fills in some of that hole and Go-Go Live is definitely good writing. . . . Hopkinson contributes a valuable piece to the cultural history of a changing city.” — Michael Rugel, Culturemob

“With the election of Barack Obama and the return of the white middle class to the urban core, Hopkinson’s beloved Chocolate City and the music it spawned may be a thing of the past. Go-Go Live is thus not just a work of scholarship but an eloquent piece of cultural partisanship, an elegy, a counter-narrative, a love letter.” — Michael Lindgren, Washington Post

“[A] fascinating new book about go-go, D.C., and race in urban America. . . . Hopkinson’s book is also a plaint of ambivalent hopefulness that this post-Chocolate City, Barack Obama-era Washington, D.C., can begin to overcome that separate-and-unequal racial division still at the heart of America.” — Michael Corbin, Baltimore City Paper

“Hopkinson writes with great, sometimes astonishing, insight, and this is a work that is sorely needed. Recommended for readers interested in gentrification, nongovernmental DC, and the music that animates its culture.” — Molly McArdle, Library Journal

“Part history of, part elegy for, ‘the displacement of black communities and a slow death of the Chocolate City,’ the text is supplemented by a rich photo insert documenting both dance floor and street. . . . Her assessment of a local phenomenon offers a glimpse of a culture off the mainstream’s radar.” — Publishers Weekly

“No written work could fully capture the excitement of go-go culture, but Hopkinson comes close. . . . Go-Go Live provides a loving profile of this unique musical culture. By tying go-go to the tumultuous history of one of the US’s most important cities, Hopkinson’s work will undoubtedly become an important resource to students of music, race, and US history.” — Charles L. Hughes, Popular Music and Society

Go-Go Live is above all an extended eulogy describing how the entry of middle-class entities and authorities, both black and white, into previously forsaken neighborhoods has created a tension that threatens the economic, political, and cultural independence of working-class residents…In focusing on the vitality of a grassroots musical genre that annoys or frightens the middle class, she demonstrates that music has the power to help us distinguish the difference between the two.” — Michael T. Bertrand, Journal of American History

Go-Go Live is a smartly observed, well written study of DC-area go-go culture. . . . An insightful exploration of the place of go-go in the DC community and, in particular, its cultural sensibility as the local expression of a ‘post-1968’ consciousness among black youth.” — William Sites, Urban Studies

“Hopkinson celebrates go-go’s distinct regional and aural character and offers insight into its fraught past and potential future. . . . Hopkinson’s work is an important reminder that music is a performative form and popular music studies should consider both cultural production and performance in its scope.” — Justin Mann, Journal of Popular Music Studies

“In Go-Go Live, Hopkinson’s groundbreaking research induces further consideration of power, genre, gender, and music repertoire analysis.” — Alisha Lola Jones, Callaloo

"Taking us into the little-studied terrain of go-go, the cousin of hip-hop born and bred in Washington, D.C.¸ Natalie Hopkinson reveals go-go as a lens for seeing, in stark colors, how the economy, politics, and especially the drug trade have traduced black communities around the world." — Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

"Go-Go Live is not just a fantastic read, but THE definitive study of D.C.'s most overlooked and unheralded art form. Natalie Hopkinson captures the soul of the city." — Dana Flor, codirector of The Nine Lives of Marion Barry

"Natalie Hopkinson knows the music, the heartbeat, and the people of Washington well, but Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City is much more than a book about D.C.'s indigenous sound. It is a vital, lively, and ultimately inspiring look at the evolution of an American city." — George Pelecanos

"Natalie Hopkinson's Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City demonstrates the essential connections between culture and community in an American city. For generations now, go-go music in Washington D.C. has not only given the authentic, nonfederal parts of that city its musical milestones, but it has—in the voice of so many great lead talkers—marked the civic and political time. From Chuck Brown forward, go-go has proven resilient and real. They say you can't understand this music unless you are there in the club, in the moment, but this book comes close." — David Simon, creator of the television series The Wire and Treme

"Go-Go Live is a terrific and important piece of work. Music, race, and the city are three key pivot points of our society, and Natalie Hopkinson pulls them together in a unique and powerful way. I have long adored Washington, D.C.'s go-go music. This book helped me understand the history of the city and the ways that it reflects the whole experience of race and culture in our society. It puts music front and center in the analysis of our urban experience, something which has been too long in coming." — Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class

"Black Washington, D.C., has a famously rich history and culture. Natalie Hopkinson has an established reputation as one of the most sophisticated commentators on contemporary black culture in the capital city. Go-Go Live is not only a fascinating account of a musical culture, but also a social and cultural history of black Washington in the post–civil rights era." — Mark Anthony Neal, author of New Black Man


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Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Natalie Hopkinson, a contributing editor of TheRoot.com, lectures at Georgetown University and directs the Future of the Arts and Society project as a fellow of the Interactivity Foundation. She is the author, with Natalie Y. Moore, of Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation. A former writer and editor at the Washington Post, Hopkinson has contributed to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and TheAtlantic.com and done commentary for NPR and the BBC.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xv

1. A Black Body Politic 1

2. Club U 14

3. What's Happening 30

4. Call and Response 46

Gallery 67

5. The Archive 86

6. The Boondocks 102

7. Redemption Song 123

8. Mr. Obama's Washington , D.C. 144

9. Roll Call, 1986 162

Notes 179

Bibliography 189

Index 203
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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