DC go-go legend and EU frontman Sugar Bear celebrates 50 years of music in Tysons, Bethesda

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Sugar Bear in Virginia and Maryland (Part 1)

A D.C. music legend is celebrating 50 years of his beloved go-go group Experience Unlimited.

DC Go Go legend Sugar Bear performs at Bladensburg Waterfront Park Thursday for PG County residents at a free concert to address gun violence and remember victims. (Gigi Barnett/WTOP)

Sugar Bear brings EU to Capital One Hall in Tysons, Virginia this Friday, July 12, followed by a pair of shows at Bethesda Theater in Bethesda, Maryland on July 26 and 27.

“Let’s have a party, reminisce, bring your cell phones, we’ll take pictures after the show, we’re selling EU gear, some shirts, so come on and have a good time,” Sugar Bear said. “It’s a little rock ‘n roll, of course a majority go-go music, we always throw in a couple (covers), but mainly it’s all EU from the beginning to now.”

Born in North Carolina, Gregory Elliott moved with his parents to D.C. when he was just 2 years old, settling on Dix Street in Northeast D.C. before moving to Valley Green Public Housing in Congress Heights in Southeast.

“That’s where Sugar Bear was born,” Sugar Bear said. “I came up with R&B, The Temptations, Earth Wind & Fire, James Brown, Mandrill, but when I got to Ballou High School, I was a rock head with Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. It was a whole new era of Grand Funk Railroad, Aerosmith, you name it. … I just love rock ‘n roll.”

In 1974, he formed Experience Unlimited with his classmates at Ballou High School in Southeast D.C.

“We won the talent show and got to open up for Chuck Brown,” Sugar Bear said. “Every band wanted to play The Panorama Room. … We got in but didn’t do too good; we were playing rock music and they wanted to hear party music. … Chuck pulled me aside and said, ‘Son, you’ve got talent, but you’ve gotta play what people want to hear.’ That’s all I needed, that was my light switch. That was a Friday night and the next Monday we were playing go-go.”

In 1988, EU blew up on the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s sophomore film “School Daze” (1988) as the Grammy-nominated single “Da Butt” topped the R&B charts and reached No. 35 on the overall Billboard Hot 100.

“That came from Spike Lee’s vision and Marcus Miller, one of the greatest bass players I’ve ever seen in my life,” Sugar Bear said. “I sung my little hooks like, ‘Shirley got a big old butt, Irene got a big old butt,’ stuff like that, and I even played a little bass on it. … Ever since ‘Bustin’ Loose,’ there was nothing people knew about go-go music, so when ‘Da Butt’ came out it was like, ‘Wow, this stuff is hot!’ It opened up the floodgates for our culture.”

After “Da Butt,” EU signed with Virgin Records for the album “Livin’ Large” (1989), featuring a pair of Top 10 hits on the R&B charts with “Buck Wild” and “Taste of Your Love.” They also recorded a hit collab with Salt-N-Pepa on “Shake Your Thang,” sampling both The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” and James Brown’s “Funky President.”

“We were blessed with that and it kept EU’s name getting bigger and bigger around the globe,” Sugar Bear said.

In 2021, “Da Butt” gained new life when actress Glenn Close danced to it live on the Oscars telecast.

“I was watching the Lakers (and) my phone started ringing back to back, all these texts: ‘Turn to Channel 7, the Oscars, Glenn Close is performing ‘Da Butt!’ I said, ‘What?’ So I did and caught it in time, amazing,” Sugar Bear said. “We were coming out of the corona pandemic. … Everybody was going through mental breakdowns, all the deaths. I think (‘Da Butt’ at the Oscars) was a bright moment in our history because it made everybody feel good again.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Sugar Bear in Virginia and Maryland (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation on the podcast below:

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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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