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Go-Go in the News: An Excerpt from The Beat!: Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C.

Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The following is an excerpt from The Beat!: Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C. by Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson, Jr. (University Press of Mississippi). Here, Lornell and Stephenson discuss go-go music's portrayal in D.C.-area print media.

STOP SMILING offered coverage of go-go culture in our DC Issue, including an interview with Backyard Band frontman Anwan Glover.



TMOTTGoGo [Take Me Out to the Go-Go] is not the only magazine devoted to go-go. Go Go Swings takes into account not only the music but fashion as well. Though it is not published on-line and comes out on a less reliable schedule, Go Go Swings aims to reach the same audience as Kato’s publication: a hip, young, black and urban (mostly from D.C. and Prince George’s County) readership who are aware of what they eat, how they look, where they work and what music they consume.

The October 1997 issue of Go Go Swings typifies the magazine’s style and attitude. The articles about Chuck Brown and Rare Essence’s André “Whiteboy” Johnson are short and not particularly revealing. Benjy Little contributes ad brief “Editor’s Quote” as well as short columns about fashion (“The Wear”), letters (“Public Opinion”), and the younger set (“Children’s Page”). The most interesting section is a list of hot-selling go-go releases. In the fall of 1997 this included Straight Cranking by RE, Unibomber by Backyard Band, Roll It by Northeast Groovers, and Here Come the Freaks by Junk Yard. These features are interspersed with ads for small local businesses­ — Planet Chocolate City on H Street NE; Rugged Wear Sports Apparel in Capital Heights and Suitland, Maryland; and Shooter’s Urban Sports Apparel on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Their willingness to advertise in Go Go Swings underscores not only the music’s local appear but also its entrepreneurial nature.

It is not only the music that moves go-go; it’s gear too. With go-go’s youthful demographics, the importance of image is not to be underestimated. The importance of gear — clothing in particular — is reflected by local in-store marketing and in the advertisements found in local magazines devoted to go-go. Go Go Swings magazine bills itself as a publication “For The Young Urban Mind” that covers not only go-go but also “rap, hip-hop, R&B, jazz and entertainment.” Perhaps it should be subtitled “Black Popular Music and Culture in D.C.”

CEO Benjy Little, born in 1971, believes in the power and importance of go-go. He began Go Go Swings in 1997 to represent the city in ways that the more upscale (read white) monthly Washingtonian magazine can’t and is not interested in doing. Little notes that “D.C. didn’t have a voice, we were always on the back burner.”* Once again, the division between D.C. and Washington rears its head. Little was exposed to go-go before he attended grade school by his uncle, Norris Little, who promoted shows at the Take-It-Easy Ranch in southern Maryland. In addition to go-go shows that lasted several days, Norris Little brought in national acts such as Roy Ayers; Earth, Wind & Fire; and the Four Tops. This business venture was quite successful until about 1979, when one of the employees, Nighthawk, absconded with all of the company’s money. Benjy Little’s older, trumpet-playing brother, Harold, performed with Chance Band & Show and Chuck Brown before devoting his energy and expertise to jazz.

With plenty of hard work and relatively little capital, Go Go Swings magazine has slowly grown. From an initial press run of 500 for the first issue, the sixth edition of the magazine has grown to 35,000 copies that are sold throughout the city and over the Internet. Little believes that his “RIP” (obituaries) and photo section are perhaps the most turned-to sections of the magazine. Much like shout-outs at a go-go, people want to see themselves “represented” in print or from the stage, underscoring the old adage that “you’ve got to give the public what they want.”


* Benjy Little, Go Go Roundtable, 13 December 1999


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