When Donna Summer died on May 17 from cancer at the age of 63, the flaming torch of the disco era and beyond suddenly became brighter in her honor.
She leaves behind an arsenal of great music, dating back to “Love to Love You Baby,” her first major hit in 1975 (Casablanca Records). Some of her many hit singles include “Try Me, I Know We Can Make It,” “Spring Affair, “On the Radio,” “Dim All the Lights,” “Last Dance” and the Barbra Streisand duet, “No More Tears (Enough is Enough).”
The dance craze was the hustle–a dance known for its many spins and turns, similar to the Lindy Hop minus the airborne techniques and the big band of Chick Webb. Young people packed the dance floors eager to show off their dance routines.
Summer was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums reach No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard chart. She charted four No. 1 singles in the United States within a 13-month period. She was also a five-time Grammy Award winner.
In 2009, Summer performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, in honor of President Barack Obama. She was backed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
Summer stated in an interview in 2010 that she wanted to begin work on a standards album and an all-out dance album. In July 2011, Summer was working at Paramount Recording Studios in Los Angeles with her nephew, the rapper and producer O’Mega Red.
Summer reached diva status as the “Queen of Disco,” putting her in that royalty category with Ella Fitzgerald, “The First Lady of Song,” and Aretha Franklin, “The Queen of Soul.” What these women have in common isn’t just their great voices–Summer had a mezzo-soprano vocal range–but their style and finesse, a unique singing ability that propelled them far above the rest, with no competition in sight.
If the subject of go-go music came up, many might say, “What type of music is that?” But if one were to mention the hard hittin’ funk tune “Bustin’ Loose” by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, many would say, “Oh, yeah.”
Go-go music features a heavy funky beat, a continuous flow introduced by Brown, a singer, guitarist and songwriter who died on May 16 at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore at age 75.
“Go-go is a music that goes on and on…it’s a call-and-response communication with the audience,” Brown explained. “It is heavy on percussion with drummers as lead players, accented by his bluesy guitar riffs, keyboards and horns. Sometimes the musicians would play for two or three hours without stopping, keeping the dance floor hot into the wee hours.”
Brown, known for being a dapper dresser with his signature fedora and shades, also recorded go-go covers of early jazz and blues songs such as “Go-Go Swing,” Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Moody’s Mood for Love,” Johnny Mercer’s “Midnight Sun,” Louis Jordan’s “Run Joe” and T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday.”
The soundtrack of Spike Lee’s film “School Daze” (1988) featured the single “Da Butt.” Written by Marcus Miller and Mark Stevens and performed by E.U., it became a Billboard hit and swings in the style of go-go funk.
With its repetitive sing-talk vocals, go-go is sometimes cited as an influence on early rap. In 2002, the rapper Nelly sampled “Bustin’ Loose” in his No. 1 song “Hot in Herre.” In 2005, the National Endowment for the Arts gave Brown a National Heritage Fellowship Award, and in 2009, Washington, D.C., renamed a block on Seventh Street in the Northwest section of the city, near the Howard Theater, “Chuck Brown Way.”
In 2011, Brown was nominated for his first Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for his song “Love,” featuring singer Jill Scott and bassist Marcus Miller.
Marc Cary, one of the most innovative jazz pianists and composers on today’s scene, grew up amid the go-go music scene in Washington, D.C. Now, based in New York City, he credits Brown as one of his early music mentors.
“Go-go is D.C.’s very own unique contribution to the world of pop music, and Chuck Brown was regarded as go-go’s creator and, arguably, its most legendary artist,” said District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray.