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The Go-Go Community Sustainability Report: Impact Investments and Policy Recommendations

© Copyright 2020 by Maleke Glee, B.A., M.A.


The Go-Go Community Sustainability Report documents the current challenges of the go-go cultural economy and produces public-private policy and investment recommendations. The impetus for the report is the desired sustainability and growth of this cultural asset.

Go-go is a distinct part of the Washingtonian experience, retaining a regional cultural capital since the 1970s. Amid the current changes in the District, go-go’s relevance, particularly with younger audiences, is jeoparded. In 2019 the city released a cultural plan that produced recommendations to aid the growing cultural sector. However, tangible recommendations for D.C.’s now official music were absent. At this moment, D.C. is a city with many exciting developments that unfortunately exacerbate inequity. The city is grappling with cultural remembrance; the treatment of go-go continues to serve as an analogy for the treatment of the Black population, . For some, the Official Music of D.C. legislation is a positive turning point. It is an implication of the city’s support of the genre. As conveyed by many engaged in this research, policy is the next step. The recommendations of this report are informed by primary research conducted by a single researcher. Over the span of three months, six oral histories were collected from go-go musicians and stakeholders. The recommendations address the central challenges of affordable and go-go friendly venues, educational and business development resources, technical support for digital integration, and the development of tourism infrastructure. The recommendations of this plan support the heritage preservation aims of the D.C. Cultural Plan. Relevant government agencies and community stakeholders are mutually involved in generating solutions. The implementation of these recommendations is a step toward long-term, systemic resources that safeguard and promote the genre.

This excerpt is from a dissertation prepared for fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Cultural Sustainability, Goucher College, May 2020.

(Credit…Akil Ransome, via Associated Press)


“Go-go is more than just music, it’s a complex expression of cultural values masquerading in the guise of party music in our nation’s capital.”

– Kip Lornell and Charles Stephenson Jr., The Beat: Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C.


Depending on whom you ask, and where you are in the city, go-go is emblematic of D.C. culture. This distinctly Washingtonian sound has garnered worldwide attention, as demonstrated in Don’t Mute D.C.’s (DMDC) 2019 petition that garnered over 80,000 responses from over 94 countries. The survey enlisted support to protect the public presentation of the genre on historic 7th Street and Florida Avenue atop the T-Mobile affiliate, Metro PCS. The shop is a great community asset; for nearly 25 years, the store has been playing go-go on the street corner. Additionally, the store is one of the last places to purchase go-go CDs. The shop maintains the musical remnants of the quickly changing Chuck Brown Way intersection, named after the musical pioneer who popularized go-go. In April 2019, the hallmark sound of Chuck Brown Way was silenced due to noise complaints from new residents. Undoubtedly, the attention around the briefly interrupted music at Metro PCS revitalized attention on go-go. Online activism and public demonstrations mounted under the moniker #DontMuteDC. The hashtag #DontMuteDC provides an archive of public reaction that expresses the importance of go-go in D.C. cultural heritage.

The noise complaints came from residents of The Shay, a new luxury apartment building embedded with suggestive cultural symbols. The incident, which led to public demonstrations, exemplifies the implications of rapid city development and its cultural effects. “She has arrived,” is boldly proclaimed on The Shay’s poster that sits directly across a block of Black-owned businesses in the historic Howard-Shaw neighborhood. One is left to ask, as “she” arrives, who and what remains?


The Go-Go Community Sustainability Report provides social impact investment and policy recommendations to support the heritage aims of the DC Cultural Plan. This report is informed by pre-existing scholarship and primary research to produce critical remarks on economic vitality, cultural impact, and the sustainability of go-go music and culture. This report looks to support private and public sector partnerships that retain authenticity and enacts fiscal recompense for the city-sanctioned actions that have comprised the growth and sustainability of the genre.


Washington, D.C. has been known as the Chocolate City since the funk band Parliament- Funkadelic coined the epithet in their 1975 song. The song is an homage to D.C. and similar cities with “Socio-politically-diverse-Afro-centric culture,” as stated on the back text of the album’s cover. “On the Black music tip, it [D.C.] was way ahead as well. There was a thriving Go-Go band circuit….” Chocolate City not only denotes a particular cultural capital, but also Black political leadership, and a community of entrepreneurship. The nickname slowly loses relevance as the city gentrifies, pushing out much of the Black community. While the residents fight for fair and affordable housing, they also advocate for city measures to support the sustainability of the city’s homegrown sound.

Go-go is a polyrhythmic sound with congas, timbales, cowbells, rototoms, and depending on the sub-genre, string, and brass instruments. Go-go was firstly introduced in the 1970s by the revered “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown. For Washington’s Black community, go-go was the de facto official music of Washington, D.C., before it was designated as such by legislation in February 2020. Generations of Black Washingtonians have lived with go-go as the soundtrack to their lives; it plays at graduations, funerals, and in public spaces, like on makeshift drums in Chinatown.

Each generation has contributed to the evolution of go-go sound, dance, and aesthetics. The music not only reflects the hottest radio songs through selected covers; but tells the story of the city through its original lyrics. While go-go is keenly relevant to the Black community, it is a central figure in the city’s history broadly. In example, go-go is used in political campaigns, and key figures are memorialized in statues, murals, parks, and streets.


In 2019, Mayor Muriel Bowser released the DC Cultural Plan. The plan includes twenty-eight policy and six investment recommendations for “leveraged funding to sustain the city’s cultural core and create new opportunities for historically under-represented creators and communities.”1 The rapid gentrification of the last decade has resulted in widespread changes to the cultural sector, in particular, the closure of hallmark venues and the migration of the producers and patrons of go-go. DC Cultural Plan’s recommendations do not speak to the niche needs of the go-go community. This go-go specific report supports the goals of the DC Cultural Plan; it proposes additional recommendations that address the needs of the go-go community as identified from primary research.

Go-go is mentioned briefly in the D.C. plan, but no tangible recommendations are produced. The mention of the genre is primarily in summaries of community conversations included within the appendix. The community conversations occurred city-wide and invited community stakeholders and the general public to chime in on the state of the city’s cultural sector. However, given the often informal arrangement of go-go stakeholders, they may not have been directly targeted. Many go-go stakeholders lie within unanticipated yet related cultural production sectors such as radio, event promotion, or photography. These cultural figures are not always formally constituted in an organization and may be less visible to cultural policymakers. Identifying and tapping into the go-go community may present a challenge without ambassadors to consult on the engagement. The Go-Go Community Sustainability Report recommendations are drawn from community members captured by oral histories, surveys, and notes from town hall convenings. The implementation of the recommendations requires stakeholder shared ownership and authority.

The majority of oral history participants interviewed for this research report did not expect the city to follow up on the genre’s status as the Official Music of D.C. with new policy. However, the city’s aims to support the evolution of go-go require strategic policy informed by the cultural impact, community interests, and tools for economic development. This plan assesses the needs of the cultural ecosystem and presents probable solution generating actions.

“Systematic change, versus one small victory…we need to get the community involved, the people involved, and the public officials. Get them [public officials] to hear the other side of the equation. The next phase of the movement is policy.”

– Ron Moten, Don’t Mute D.C.

Longtime activist Ron Moten underscores the need for multiple stakeholders to develop policy. This report is in agreement with Moten’s assertion that the next phase is policy. All recommendations prioritize long term benefits and reflect policy, partnerships, and capital investment. Social impact investment inform.s the approach to identifying challenges and proposed solutions. Social impact investment recommendations are supported by multi-partner decision making that prioritizes social impact.


Social Impact Investments are multi-sector, collaborative, strategic investments made to generate measurable social, and environmental impacts with mutual financial benefits. Impact investments involve new communities, emergent, or pre-existing communities that require strategic partnerships to accomplish identified goals in response to impact needs. Social impact investment recommendations are included in the DC Cultural Plan to support pre-existing cultural assets. For example, the city’s cultural plan outlines steps to obtain public resources for graphic designers, visual artists, theatres, and creative start-up enterprises. This report’s recommendations outline similar approaches specific to go-go sustainability and economic growth that are supported by public-private social impact investments.

The city’s cultural plan and the recommendations of this research report situate the government as a capital deployment intermediary, logistically and fiscally supporting existing business and real estate projects. The intermediary party usually mandates and reviews the social and financial metrics and outcomes. This intermediary role supports the development of new programmatic, business and real estate projects.

As the intermediary, the government can bring community stakeholders and other partners together to respond directly to broader needs related to the go-go community. Addressing the needs of go-go can also support other social challenges such as food deserts, and services for returning citizens, seniors, and job seekers. The native population faces the encroachment of gentrification to its last frontier east of the river. The investments that support go-go have the opportunity to address other community needs, such as affordable housing and commercial real estate in Wards 7 and 8. The recommendations presented in this report prioritize equity for the native population that face pre-existing barriers, including historically low city investment in the cultural landscape.


This multi-faceted genre of diverse professions requires a focused research protocol to gather relevant information to produce impactful recommendations. This ecosystem requires specific attention as there are roles that operate independently of go-go but are dependent on the live performance genre for a large percentage of income generation. Understanding this self- sustained resilient ecosystem not only avails nuance to public memory, but helps outline a course forward that widens visibility, and embeds resources for continuity. For our purposes, the Go- Go Creative Economy is comprised of the following:

●  Musicians

●  Band Management

●  Fashion Design

●  Videography/Photography

●  Sound Engineering/ Audio Services

●  Venues

●  Marketing/Promotion

●  Security

●  Media/ Journalism



The findings of this paper reflect surveys and oral histories collected from a small sample of the go-go economy. Existing academic, journalistic sources and government documents placed personal narratives specifically within historical, political, regional, and field contexts. A single researcher accomplished this research process in three months. A citywide and regional understanding of this creative economy’s size, economic contribution, demographic data, and response to the rapid city changes requires a larger body of research. Resources to support the continued study of go-go are recommended and may require a full year of observation to understand trends, especially as they relate to tourism.

This research process employed the definition of Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) from the Community Tool Box produced by the University of Kansas Center for Community Health and Development. The Community Tool Box defines CBPR as a research method that “enlists those who are most affected by a community issue – typically in collaboration or partnership with others who have research skills – to conduct research on and analyze that issue, with the goal of devising strategies to resolve it.” More information on the research methodology may be found in the Reflection Paper located within the appendix of the complete thesis.


Key Findings

I. Key Observations

“Venues ban certain bands because of fights the bands had no business in. After a while you have no place to go. I remember every Saturday I would drive to Saint Mary’s County, would drive back at three in the morning, nodding off…couldn’t play in PG County, D.C….kept getting pushed out.”

– Walter “Walt” Hansborough, Event Promoter

Over the past decade, influential go-go venues like Ibiza, DC Star, and The Neon have closed without new go-go friendly venues opening to an equivalent extent. The closure of these venues is due to a variety of factors, including increased property taxes, and stiff operational license requirements for business owners. Historically, The D.C. Alcohol and Beverage Control Board has pressured venues that support go-go music due to the wide misjudgment that correlated violence to the genre.4 The city’s disavowed relationship with go-go and the effects of gentrification have compounded challenges in recent years. Tenants are bound to the interest of owners who seek to attract businesses reflecting the tastes and interests of new residents. Throughout the research, the need for affordable, and lesser policed venues was a recurring theme.

The impetus for the current go-go and resident rights activism is partially due to divergent attitudes regarding public sound and the presence of Black culture in public space. The #DontMuteDC movement was initiated by the temporary closure of music atop Metro PCS on the corner of 7th Street and Florida Avenue NW. The movement started with a primary focus on go-go and has evolved into a multi-committee organization advocating and enacting solutions to many issues that affect native Washingtonians. Ron Moten shares that DMDC uses “the social power of music to address issues of our community.” The availability of venues is one of those issues. The treatment of go-go is often a micro expression of a macro, city-wide, racially informed inequality issue. In the case of MetroPCS, even while in compliance with the public sound ordinance, the music was overthrown by personal preference assertions from new residents. Venues are vital to the economic sustainability of the genre; within this section are observations that inform the needs and recommendations for city-supported investment support.

City social impact investment is a corrective measure to ongoing challenges presented in venues’ ability to present go-go. Additionally, the city’s stated commitment should be an indication to new coming residents of the importance of this genre within D.C. history and cultural infrastructure. City support manifested in policy and funding would emphasize go-go’s importance to residents and visitors.

In the last decade, the continuation of the genre is supported largely by regional venues in suburban Maryland. A small sample of go-go attendees were engaged during a Black Alley Concert held at Ivy City Smokehouse in Northeast. Half of the sample’s go-go attendance is now in Prince George’s County, Maryland, or Northern Virginia. The native Washingtonians engaged felt their concert attendance has lessened, reflecting the number of concert venues and the frequency that go-go is played in the city. One audience member notes that their participation five years ago was once a week, and now they may attend once a month. However, the perceived frequency of band performance and audience attendance is subjective, based on audience preference. The subgenres of go-go are not afforded the same opportunities for space and visibility as “traditional” go-go. For example, a more established band like Backyard Band may perform weekly, while a younger, bounce beat band like X.I.B. might perform once a month. The discussion of venues often is coupled with concerns around cultivating younger audiences.

“The culture is boastfully being honored and silently being killed. They cut the umbilical cord. Now it is hard for younger band 16,17.18 to like go-go because where can they perform?”

– Ben Abba, Go-Go Stakeholder

The above quote is from Ben Abba, previous manager of TCB- Bounce Beat Kingz. Bounce beat is a subgenre that reflects the younger millennial audience. Bounce beat was introduced and popularized in the late 2000s and early 2010s when their audience was in high school. Ben recalls that from 2005-2010 many venues would hold two shows on one night. For example, popular venue CFE in Prince George’s County would hold an all-ages show from 7p-11p, the second show of the evening from 12a-3a would be for a 21+ audience. Once CFE stopped their all-ages shows, the business began to subdue until it ultimately folded. The availability of venue space not only supports youth engagement but widens the business opportunity for all related to the performance experience.


II. All Ages

The last generation to partake in all age go-go is the “bounce beat generation,” those in high school during 2005-2012. Bands known for bounce beat are referred to as “alphabet bands” by older generations because of the use of acronyms. Popular bounce beat bands include XIB (Xtreme Intentionz Band), ABM (All Bout Money), and TOB (TakeOvaBand). The bounce beat generation popularized beat your feet and clapping as signature dance moves that are specific to the cadence of the sound. Without the availability of younger bands and audiences, the genre’s ability to produce new audiences and evolve the culture is vulnerable.

Particular attention to spaces for young people to partake in the genre is vital. Currently, there is no commercial venue space that allows audiences under 18 to participate. More specifically, most performance venues have full-service bars, and are restricted to audiences 21 and over. While not strictly enforced, some bands advertise their event as Grown and Sexy, exclusive to those aged 25 and older. Since the decades of the genre’s inception, young people have been the pioneers continuing the musical, performance, and dance evolution.

All age go-go events are now limited to public community events and intimate private gatherings and are without staple home venues. The dwindling number of all-age venues is related to the previous prevalent perception of go-go in the media. However, the media activity around the #DontMuteDC moment and movement have represented a more positive narrative around go-go. This narrative showcases the attributes that have shaped regional identity, establishing a case for city investment.


III. Misperceptions and Issues

“We’re musicians…if the legislatures can’t control it, how can we? Instead of pointing fingers at the politicians and politicians pointing fingers at the musicians, we should collaborate. Some individuals in the band are more in touch with youth than the politicians.”

– Ali, Suttle Thoughts

A primary reason there is particularly low availability of venues for youth is the historical perception of go-go. The perception of violence is less pervasive now, but this historical trend informs the genre’s sustainability today. Propagated media attention focused solely on violence, and not the plethora of community assets embedded within and produced from go-go. Throughout this research, violence only came up in relation to venues. In 2010 the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department’s Go-Go Report became publicly known. The report

shared with The Washington City Paper from an undisclosed source listed two weeks of go-go performances both in the city and Prince George’s County, Maryland. In the research, a few crimes were repeatedly mentioned because of their public visibility, political response, and social impacts. Ben Abba also sheds light on the typical news story that mentions go-go in relation to crimes. In example, a crime may happen miles from the venue and occur hours after a performance, yet if any suspect is traced to a go-go concert, that go-go band and venue would face collateral consequences.

In the 1980s, the D.C. Council enacted curfews for go-go youth attendance. These measures reflected the social climate of the time, during the Crack Epidemic. Go-go was not an accomplice for drug culture but was collateral damage. Go-go tends to be the scapegoat for more substantial social ailments that require systemic solutions. The city has an excellent opportunity to support go-go and embed actions that duly aid social issues affecting the native community.

The city enacted curfew laws in the 1980s and 90s to curtail go-go, specifically for minor audiences.7 Additionally, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board targeted venues that played go-go with threatened and issued liquor license violations. The venue targeting came soon after the murder of D.C. police officer Brian Gibson in 1997. Gibson was sitting at a red light near The Ibex, during a Backyard Band concert. While no evidence tied the band to the murder, the band was scapegoated for the crime. This particular example demonstrates a recurring connection that plagued the genre. The possibility of such negative implications created a culture of fear for venues, worried both about their safety and economic viability.

Regardless of its perception, go-go supports non-violence with informal policies that result in the immediate end of performance upon the outbreak of a fight. Go-go, both from the music and voiced in public arenas by the musicians, makes progressive political statements to galvanize citizens around social issues such as voting, homelessness, and recently, PSA announcements to progress social distancing. Black Alley, for example, continues its community engagement and service off the stage with #HoodRockUniversity scholarships and service events. Black Alley and other bands should be engaged as advisors to aid the city in social services that address identified social issues and foster solutions to community wellness.


As a genre predominantly reliant on live performance, the availability of space affects the scale of this economy. Go-go has not yet transmitted performances on the digital landscape as other genres. Digital streaming is a definite possibility; however, the crux of the genre’s signature quality is audience interaction. Without venues, the central space of commerce is jeopardized, affecting the sustainability of surrounding industries.

From the small sample engaged at the Black Alley performance, on average, attendees spent $150.00 to attend a concert. The identified average ticket price is $25. Based on this data, on average, a go-go patron attending a live show spends $125 on the experience. The sample noted that spending related to concert attendance includes rideshare, clothing, restaurant patronage, bar drinks, and street photography. The sustainability of go-go fosters the stability of other creative entrepreneurs of this market place. Ayanna Long captured information on street photography through research for the documentary film The Let Out. Ayanna, also having a short tenure shooting with backdrops, estimates a profit of $300 a night. Artist Larry Cook engaged several photographers and painters for his Eternal Splendor series. Larry recalls the rental of backgrounds around $300, and the commission for an original as $1,500. Street photography, such as the other industries of the go-go community, thrives in and around venue spaces. Both Larry and Ayanna are examples of creative entrepreneurs that work primarily outside of go-go but find inspiration and business within the genre. Ayanna puts in plainly, “more shows means more jobs.”


Tax Incentives

  •  A Go-Go Heritage Tourism Development Tax Rebate is proposed to attract new businesses and leverage the challenges faced by entrepreneurs recovering from the COVID-19 Pandemic. The rebate program will have specific requirements supporting new businesses that will play and promote go-go music. The proposed Go-Go Heritage Tourism Development Tax Rebate will require a commission to determine eligibility and ensure compliance with participants. The duration of the rebate program will be determined by economic data, guaranteeing the rebate is efficient, effective, and responsive to the compounding challenges of the COVID19 Pandemic.
  •  Additionally, a small tax(<1%) may be charged to qualifying music venues that are in the top income percentile for their sector. These contributions will support the tourism infrastructure of go-go. The dollars will not directly aid go-go entrepreneurs. Still, they will help the investment in incentives to elevate go-go regionally, nationally, and internationally. Specific programs may be developed to ensure the funds’ stream into a system of outcome-driven policy.

Social Impact Investment Properties

  •  Chinatown is D.C.’s prime entertainment hub with retail, dining, and entertainment experiences. However, areas known for their local, community- produced cultural heritage are increasingly less prominent. As the city identifies areas for tourism and community-based property investment, Ward 7 and 8 residents and businesses should receive a priority occupancy in this designated zone. Within that cultural zone, a city invested mixed-use property may support go-go through the inclusion of private and public resources that service the direct needs of the area.


  • The District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) facilities remain a go-go access point for youth. However, these experiences are often limited to the summer months and are infrequent. Fort Dupont Park is a staple venue that hosts both large and small go-go acts. Chuck Brown Day is DPR’s largest go-go celebration, held annually in August to celebrate the birthday of “The Godfather of Go-Go.” Investment in the increased frequency of go-go events will heighten the cultural relevance of the DPR venues. It may be a tool to attract the community to sites with go-go as the initial entry point. DPR has 67 community centers and spans over all eight wards. City investment can cover all fees related to go-go entertainment and technical needs. It is recommended that the city fund specific entertainment and educational/instruction, one time and ongoing programs for participants of all ages.

The entire thesis can be found here.

Maleke Glee, M.A is a Creator in Residence at The Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts (MoCADA). Also the Executive Director of Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center in Maryland. Glee’s research interests rest in critical coverage of the African  diaspora, voiced by African descendants with a nuanced focus on the creative, intellectual, and sociopolitical landscape through multimedia storytelling.

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