Chuck Brown packs them in one last time
By Ian Shapira and Hamil Harris
Hundreds of Chuck Brown fans sporting Chuck Brown T-shirts and chatting about their favorite Chuck Brown concert memories descended Thursday morning on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for the go-go godfather’s last show, his public memorial service.
The hordes of fans, devoted enough to know that what you wear to a Chuck Brown event matters, tried outdoing each other by wearing the most Chuck Brown-centric outfits they could. Anthony Gooding, in fact, may have won on that score: As he tried finding a spot in line, people stopped Gooding to snap photos of his T-shirt — a black, Mario Puzo-themed “Godfather of Go-Go” garment.
“I’m the celebrity here,” he said with a smile.
Most of those interviewed said they came because Brown’s musicevoked powerful recollections from their childhood: the time they sneaked into a club as a teenager to hear him play, or the times that Brown’s music boomed from neighbors’ porches and everyone just partied outside, as a community.
Brown got sick in early March and died May 16 at age 75. The line of mourners Thursday morning was deep enough that it snaked about halfway around the convention center, from the Mount Vernon Place NW entrance to Seventh Street, down to M Street and to Ninth Street. Some people brought lawn chairs and umbrellas. Others came on crutches, one woman hobbled around in a foot injury boot and another leaned on his cane. One person, among a seeming handful, carried a bouquet of flowers.
About noon, the memorial service kicked off with vocals, brass and a range of rhythm instruments in a rendition of a go-go version of “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus.” Brown’s body was resting in a gold-colored coffin perched amid a garden of flowers inside the convention center.
Brown’s longtime manager, Tom Goldfogle, said he wasn’t surprised at the large turnout.
“I expected to see thousands because he touched people across many generations,” Goldfogle said. “He touched everybody. He took the time to give everybody a word of encouragement, so I expected the people to be here.”
The schedule of speakers at the service included prominent radio personality Donnie Simpson; Mayor Vincent C. Gray; D.C. Council member Marion Barry; and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
The fans were really coming for one person, though.
“Back in 1979, I was living on Third Street and T Northwest. My first apartment. I was 17. And everyone was playing Chuck on the front stoops. We had community,” said Fana Chisholm, 53, of Prince George’s County.
When Chisholm showed up at the convention center early Thursday morning, only a few others were there, she said. She added that she wondered, “Where were the other crazy fans to wait it out in the early morning?”
“I was worried,” she said. “Just a little bit. But then I thought, ‘It’s Chuck Brown.’ ” Soon, other early risers showed up, and Chisholm and the others among the first seven in line traded contact information for a get-together some other time.
One of those other seven was Rena Cooke-Jones, a retired administrative employee for the U.S. attorney’s office from Prince George’s. She came to show respect for Brown’s respect for women.
“If you went to a show, he demanded that the gentlemen respect women, and let them be up front at the show,” Cooke-Jones said. “If anybody got rowdy, he’d stop the concert.”
In the very back of the line was a pair of best friends from Suitland High School — Tasha Roberts, 40, a budget analyst at Andrews Air Force Base, and Seanglia Johnson, 40, a cosmetologist.
They figured they were 2,500th and 2,501st in line.
Why no Chuck Brown attire?
They shrugged. They wanted something more in keeping with a date night: long dresses with wide colorful stripes. Roberts wore a Marc Jacobs number. Johnson had on something she got from BCBG.
“When we were 13, we’d sneak into clubs to hear him play,” Johnson said. “It was electrifying. But there were no fights. No drama.”
It was Johnson’s idea to attend on Thursday. She called up Roberts to see whether she was game. Roberts nodded. “She said, ‘Oh, I’llbe there,’ ” Johnson said.
Roberts said she gave her bosses at the base a decent reason for taking off, using a word that suggested something was serious.
“I said, ‘I have an appointment,’ ” she said, keeping a straight face.
By 10 a.m., when the line finally started moving inside the building, the man waiting at the end was Cade, Brown’s godson. Cade said he wanted to bring his second wife, Yvette, to the service but she couldn’t get off work. It was Brown, he said, who helped counsel him through the divorce after his first marriage.
“Chuck told me, No matter how bad you want something, if the person is not on the same treadmill — as he called it — you have to go your own way,” Cade said.
Cade remembered that he was so eager to introduce Yvette to Brown that he tracked him down two years ago at a liquor store in Prince George’s where he knew Brown would be buying his lottery tickets. “I wanted him to see how happy I was,” Cade said. “That was the last time I saw him. So, there was no doubt I was going to be here today.”
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