‘A hometown with its own funky beat’: DC leaders, artists, fans celebrate Go-Go Museum ribbon-cutting

WTOP's Jason Fraley covers the Go-Go Museum ribbon cutting (Part 1)

“To most of us assembled here, go-go is not just great music but the soundtrack to parties that we went to … where we met each other, lifelong friends at the go-go,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told an enthusiastic crowd Wednesday afternoon.

The mayor was flanked by Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee, who popularized D.C. go-go group Experience Unlimited’s “Da Butt” in “School Daze” (1988), and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who stood on a red carpet and held a giant pair of scissors to cut the ribbon on the brand new Go-Go Museum in Anacostia.

“It is a pleasure and my honor to be with you as we officially break ground for the Go-Go Museum and experience the Mobile Go-Go Museum,” Norton said. “Americans knew the nation’s capital, but could not tell the difference between official Washington and hometown D.C. — then came go-go music. Go-go music rescued hometown D.C. from the image of a government town that couldn’t keep a beat to a hometown with its own funky beat.”

The upcoming museum is a work in progress located at 1920 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Southeast. The makeshift sign is attached to a storefront that currently reads Check It Enterprises, founded by Ronald Moten, C.E.O. of Don’t Mute D.C., who eventually plans to add a restaurant, performance space and recording studio.

“Fifteen years ago, in front of 4,000 people at the 2009 Go-Go Awards, I announced plans to build a Go-Go Museum in Washington, D.C.; that was our dream,” Moten said. “Here we are in 2023 at our groundbreaking and I look forward to opening the Go-Go Museum in Historic Anacostia in the spring of 2024 … One of the main exhibits is the 50 years of EU, and that’s why Spike came down today, so we could interview him for that exhibit.”

Seeing as the interior of the building is still a few months from completion, the event was mostly held outside as crowds enjoyed live music performances from local go-go groups. The Backyard Band performed on a hydraulic stage on the roof of the Mobile Go-Go Museum, a converted 28-passenger bus parked outside on the curb.

“With our new Go-Go Mobile Museum, we will now be able to bring our music, culture and history, into our schools, festivals and communities across all eight wards, all year round,” Moten said in a statement.

The bus features murals of key figures from the go-go scene, including photographs taken by Chip Py. He stood selling copies of his book, “D.C. Go-Go: Ten Years Backstage,” which includes 250 of his black-and-white pictures.

“I’m best known for my work with ‘The Godfather of Go-Go’ Chuck Brown, I was his photographer for the last few years of his life and I spent 10 years photographing the D.C. go-go scene,” Py said. “The D.C. Public Library acquired my images two years ago, archived for history … Once you get that beat in you, you can’t get it out.”

Rising go-go artist Sir Harvey Fitz of Capitol Heights, Maryland, came as soon as he heard about it.

“I was going about my day and happened to catch it on the news,” Fitz said. “I love go-go music and make go-go music. This past spring, I entered into the Art to Go-Go, Spoken Word to Go-Go Championship and I won. The first preliminary round was at the Busboys & Poets in Anacostia. The task was to write a spoken word poem to a go-go beat. … The prize was you got $1,000 and you got to record your piece with The Experience Band, which we did.”

He hopes to see a huge educational component to the museum to teach the next generation.

“I hope they are telling people the rich history of go-go music, the roots of it, how it traveled through the African diaspora, through South America and found its way onto the shores of this country,” Fitz said. “It’s very exciting with Mayor Bowser signing go-go music into the official music of D.C. Why not have an institution that speaks to that? … If we don’t tell our own stories, it will get told for us, which history has shown is not always the best thing.”

Arguably the biggest fan there was Chequita Carter, a D.C.-native who now lives in Hyattsville, Maryland.

“I’ve been following go-go for the past 50 years: Backyard Band, Junkyard [Band] when they used to play on their white paint cans, of course Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers,” Carter said. “I hope they put in there some memorabilia, some old pictures, some of the posters that they used to have, maybe play some of the old records, 45s, 33s, even some of the eight tracks … I still follow Backyard, Junkyard, EU, Trouble Funk, all of them.”

A museum is overdue, says DJ Mello T of Southeast D.C., famous for his Ben’s Chili Bowl song.

“It’s monumental,” DJ Mello T said. “It’s actually a long time coming and it should have been here a long time ago, but it’s here now and we’re going to celebrate it like it’s always been here.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley covers the Go-Go Museum ribbon cutting (Part 2)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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