The Friday Mixtape–Remembering Donna Summer & Chuck Brown [Voices]

Known as the “Godfather of Go-Go,” the performer, singer, guitarist and songwriter developed his commanding brand of funk in the mid-1970s to compete with the dominance of disco.

Like a DJ blending records, Mr. Brown used nonstop percussion to stitch songs together and keep the crowd on the dance floor, resulting in marathon performances that went deep into the night. Mr. Brown said the style got its name because “the music just goes and goes.”

In addition to being go-go’s principal architect, Mr. Brown remained the genre’s most charismatic figure. On stage, his spirited call-and-response routines became a hallmark of the music, reinforcing a sense of community that allowed the scene to thrive. As go-go became a point of pride for black Washingtonians, Mr. Brown became one of the city’s most recognizable figures.
- Chris Richards, The Washington Post

She became the face and voice of one of the most powerful music and cultural movements in America. As a disco icon, she projected an empowering African American femininity that would influence artists from Grace Jones to Beyonce and Rihanna, and help make her a figurehead of gay club life. As an artist, her music was incalculably influential.

Her singles with Moroder like “I Feel Love” are considered early electronic dance music, now a defining sound of today’s top-grossing pop. And she survived the disco backlash of the late 1970s and early ’80s to remain one of pop’s most pioneering artists, whose legacy can still be heard in Lady Gaga, the Electric Daisy Carnival and countless nightclubs around the world.
- August Brown and Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times


“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,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said in a statement. “Today is a very sad day for music lovers the world over, but especially in the District of Columbia.

“Without Chuck Brown, the world – and our city – will be a different place. What a loss.”

Brown always liked to tell the story of how he grew up on the streets of Washington shining shoes, then later ended up in prison. That’s where he would say he got his hands on his first guitar, and the go-go revolution was on.
- Sam Ford, WJLA-TV

As well has staggering career highs, Summer also endured personal lows.

She suffered serious depression in the wake of September 11 terrorist attacks in New York.

‘I was really freaked out by the horrific experiences of that day,’ Summer, who was at her Manhattan apartment during the 2001 attacks, once said.

‘I couldn’t go out, I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I had to keep the blinds down and stay in my bedroom.’

Friends eventually intervened and the born-again Christian also found strength in her faith.

‘I went to church, and light came back into my soul,’ she said in 2008. ‘That heaviness was gone.’
- The Daily Mail

He once called his Redskins halftime performance in 2010 a “dream come true.”

“I’ve always been a die-hard Redskins fan,” he said in the press conference announcing the performance. “Through thick and thin, for me it’s the Skins.”

His son, Nekos, played football for Virginia Tech, and another son, Wiley, will be a fifth-year senior linebacker for the Hokies in the fall.

After hearing of his passing, athletes with ties to D.C. took a moment to pay their respects on Twitter.
- Sarah Kogol, The Washington Post

“Music is part of my life. For my judgment, music is the greatest of all the gifts,” Summer told MTV News’ John Norris in a rare 1989 interview. “The voice — not my voice, but the voice — to me is the greatest gift. Having a voice. You need no other instrument, all you have to do is sing. Open your mouth, and it’s there.”

Because her sound was so rooted in the mechanics of disco, with its glittering synths and pulsating beats, some people don’t know that the five-time Grammy winner was also an amazingly accomplished vocalist. Her mezzo-soprano voice transcends even the genre she pioneered. Before she became the Queen of Disco, she sang gospel in church and in her early 20s moved to Europe, where she performed in musicals like “Godspell” and “Showboat” and joined the Viennese Folk Opera.

“When I hear other people singing, I think, ‘God, it’s great, it’s a great gift, what a great gift,’ ” Summer told MTV News. “And probably one of the gifts that people want the most is to be able to sing, and for obvious reasons — it’s soothing, it’s stimulating, it’s encouraging, it’s sad, it covers every spectrum of emotion.”
- John Mitchell, MTV News

“I went to see him in D.C. one time,” [George] Clinton reminisced back in ’94. “He knew that I was in the audience, so he played ‘Up For The Down Stroke’ and just crushed it. Then, on top of it, when he got to the bridge, he held it for like 20 minutes. I was like, ‘Damn, this man just got up in my face and killed me with my own song. That go-go is deadly.’”
- From The Beat: Go-Go’s Fusion of Funk and Hip-Hop, by Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.

But, I wonder, given Donna’s disco-derived image, doesn’t she feel she’s been manipulated too?

“Constantly,” she says, tilting her head in a little-girl-share-a-secret pose. “And it can be pretty frightening when you realize you’re a part of the machine. But you can always change that. In the beginning it was like being a commodity. The image and the person got characterized as one and the same, and I was saying, ‘No, wait. There’s more to me than meets the eye – maybe twenty pounds more.’ By the time of Spring Affair [1976], it was enough. I couldn’t go on singing those soft songs. I’ve sung gospel and Broadway musicals all my life and you have to have a belting voice for that. And because my skin is black they categorize me as a black act, which is not the truth. I’m not even a soul singer. I’m more a pop singer.”
- Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone, 1978

Candlelight vigil for Chuck Brown. Image: LaVan Anderson. Courtesy: Howard Theatre/princeofpetworth.com

She was, in short, an honorary New Yorker. Which I imagine is how hundreds of born-and-bred New Yorkers unconsciously regard the news today of her untimely death at age 63 from (reportedly) lung cancer. Regardless of where her upbringing and musical training had taken her — a childhood and adolescence singing in churches in Dorchester, salad days in Germany in the musical Hair before she met her Berlin-based studio collaborator Giorgio Moroder — Donna, to the end, belonged to all of us: outerborough ethnics; Manhattan velvet-rope aesthetes (and those who pretended); the gay, black and Latino communities.

Of course, if you’re reading this in Detroit or Las Vegas or Minneapolis or Atlanta or Los Angeles or London, Donna spoke to you, too. Considering her lifelong association with a communal, hedonistic pop-culture moment, it’s remarkable when one plays back her oeuvre how intimate, almost solitary her great works really were. Call her the Wanderer, for her ability to stretch, adapt and transmogrify dance music until it embraced everyone and everything.
- Chris Molanphy, The Village Voice

Indirectly, his legacy has also influenced songs like Jay-Z’s “Do It Again” (sampling Go-Go band Rare Essence’s “Overnight Scenario,” and who were also featured on the remix of Ludacris’s “Pimpin’ All Over”); Wale’s “Pretty Girls (sampling Backyard Band’s “Girls”); and the appearance of Go-Go band E.U. in Spike Lee’s “School Daze” movie (their song, “Da Butt” topped Billboard’s R&B chart).

However, the union between Hip-Hop and Go-Go was not just about sampling (Go-go bands also famously sample Hip-Hop). Brown’s 2007 song, “Block Party” featured DJ Kool.

In 2010, his single “Love” featuring Jill Scott and Marcus Miller, earned him his first Grammy Award nomination (for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals).

An impromptu vigil was held in Washington, DC Wednesday night on a street recently renamed “Chuck Brown Way.”
- Sia Barnes, The Source

Summer remained a force on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Songs chart all through her career, fitting, for the Queen of Disco. She notched 14 No. 1s on the chart – all the way up through her most recent hit, 2010′s “To Paris With Love.” Her last studio album, 2008′s “Crayons,” spun off three No. 1 Dance/Club hits with “I’m a Fire,” “Stamp Your Feet” and “Fame (The Game).”

On the Billboard 200 albums chart, she claimed three back-to-back No. 1 albums between 1978 and 1980 with “Live and More,” “Bad Girls” and “One the Radio – Greatest Hits Volumes I & II.” She collected further top 20 albums with 1980′s “The Wanderer” (No. 13), 1982′s self-titled set (No. 20), 1983′s “She Works Hard for the Money” (No. 9) and “Crayons” (No. 17).

Summer won five Grammy Awards, six American Music Awards and was the first African American woman to be nominated for an MTV Video Music Award, for “She Works Hard for the Money.”

“I don’t know if I could say I’d forseen how long this music would last,” she told Billboard. “I think all performers would love to see there’s no generation gap in music. People still listen to my songs on the radio. DJs still spin them in the club. You just hope that the music you make will still be around and have a second life, a third life, a fourth life. I mean, look at the Beatles. Come on!”
- Billboard Magazine