On Saturday, February 16, the Teach the Beat initiative to teach Go-Go in the schools became another step closer to reality. In an effort coordinated by the DC Commission on the Arts, the DC Public School System, co-authors of The Beat! Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C., Charles Stephenson and Kip Lornell as well as Deborah Menkart and Marya McQuirter of Teaching for Change, 100 participants came together for a full day workshop to understand D.C.'s homegrown music, Go-Go, and how it can be used as a viable tool and teaching method for music and social studies curriculums for middle and high school students.
The participants, comprised of mostly music and social studies teachers of all ages and races, represented schools all over D.C. and Prince George’s County including Alice Deal Middle School, Wilson High School, the SEED School of Washington, EL Haynes Public Charter School and Patterson Elementary to name a few. They came together to look for solutions for school to be more interesting and relatable to their students, which would in turn lead to a higher student retention rate and better grades. They were all given a copy of the book The Beat! Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C..
Ben Hall, Director of Music for the D.C.P.S. Office of Curriculum and Instruction and Scott Abbott, Social Studies Specialist for D.C.P.S. were both heavily involved in the planning, even assisting in writing the grant, attending meetings and reviewing materials in this true partnership. Duane Arbogast, Chief Academic Officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools, was also on hand to observe and participate as well.
Stephenson shares, “The basic purpose for Saturday's program is to work with D.C. teachers to ensure that students learn the rich history and the various stylistic elements related to the go-go music genre. We will draw on the vast array of go-go performers in D.C., scholars and the experience of D.C. teachers who grew up with go-go. The goal is to catalyze the art and history of go-go as a pedagogical tool for all (upper elementary, middle and high school) music, social studies, D.C. history and language arts teachers.”
After brief remarks from representatives of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and both school systems, Nekos Brown, Chuck Brown's son, shared some thoughts representing his family and his late father, the Godfather of Go-Go, who was fully committed to the efforts of the Teach the Beat initiative.
An 11 minute documentary on GoGo, "The Belly of the Drum", was shown and participants were treated to a history lesson facilitated by former music teacher, John "JB" Buchanan, a member of Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, who wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on their first three albums "We the People", "Salt of the Earth" and "Bustin' Loose". Buchanan, a product of D.C.P.S. himself, has also performed with the DC Youth Orchestra Program.
The first in a series of dialogues occurred after Buchanan played two songs- "Bustin' Loose", a studio recording and then "Go-Go Swing", a live recording. The participants then compared and contrasted both songs and discussed the call and response element of Go-Go and its importance.
After the room was broken down into small groups, Denise Dumas, an older Caucasian woman who teaches World History at Cardozo High School and Ronald Compton, an African American man who teaches music at Ketcham Elementary School, were in heavy discussion sharing ideas on how to best use the material.
Dumas shared that when she first moved to D.C., she learned of Go-Go from her students and fell in love with the music, even sending CDs to her son, who is a musician. After participating in the day's events, she declared, "On Fridays, we were doing current events, but now, Monday through Thursday will be World History and Friday is Go-Go History!"
Dwight Davis, a 5th grade social studies teacher sees the relevance. “My students didn’t want to read. I found books that were relevant to them like Sharon Draper’s books. Young people are extremely committed. These are relevant texts and can be used as a ‘read aloud’. I am definitely going to use the book, The Beat! in my classroom.”
Teachers chimed in that the students beat and rap all day with lyrics they don’t understand, while others answered that bridging the gap is cutting edge, stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging the students to listen to the older Go-Go is necessary.
Photos and phrases were used in a “Gallery Walk” setting with topics such as Individuals, bands, gender, clubs, songs/albums, advertising, Washington, D.C., D.C. Public Schools, instruments, politics and audience. The small groups were invited to place post it notes with statements relating to the topics. There were many “I’ve been there!” or “Chocolate City is now swirl” or “Can’t miss Chuck Brown’s Birthday Party!”
An anticipated question and answer session was held with panelists of seasoned musicians and educators including Chris Allen of Trouble Funk, Kenneth Carroll, who taught literature and media at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Stanley Cooper, guitarist of the group 76 Degrees West, which fuses all musical styles with a go-go flavor, Melvin Deal, who has been instructing African dance and drumming in Washington, D.C. for over 30 years, Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott, special education teacher and founding member and front man for Experience Unlimited (E.U.), William “Ju-Ju” House, internationally known drummer, Maurice Shorter, chairman of the Go-Go Coalition and former manager of Junkyard Band, Cherie Mitchell-Agurs, nationally known keyboardist and bandleader of all female group, Be’la Dona, Donnell Floyd, saxophonist and front man of the group Familiar Faces, Natalie Hopkinson, author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life & Death of a Chocolate City, David “32” Ellis, Go-Go hype man for DaMixx Band, Thomas Sayers Ellis, award winning poet and photographer who curated the first photographic exhibit of Go-Go music, Buchanan, Stephenson and Lornell.
Later in the day, music teachers enjoyed three 30 minute workshops with the musicians. Cooper explains, “Sugar Bear and I were paired together. They gave us two songs, ‘Bustin’ Loose’ and another song of our own choosing to disseminate and illustrate the roles of our respective instruments. There was a lot of question and answer between the teachers and us during our session as well.”
William “JuJu” House adds of his session, “The teachers didn’t want to leave this class when it was time for them to go to the next session. We even let them play a little. Kids can be really brutal if you are teaching them something that they don’t really want to know, but this is something that we have and that we created and we should be proud of it. No one else in the world has Go-Go. The teachers came out and they were involved. They put their foot down and wanted to know. They wanted to know the rhythms, the sounds and what makes Go-Go work. We were just breaking it down for them and showing them.”
Simultaneously, the social studies teachers filed into a packed room for some role playing, Go-Go terminology and question and answer sessions with panelists. The teachers embraced the concepts and many “Ah ha!” moments were realized during the sessions.
And at the end of the day, House was invited by an impressed James Edwards, band teacher at Stuart Hobson Middle School, to come and visit with his students.
Toniann Maniscalso, a D.C.P.S. intern in the Social Studies Department found the information very useful. “I am also a tutor and the resource of The Beat! application in the classroom further validates and supports the youth of D.C. keeping them interested building upon a foundation.
The culmination of the event was a live performance, the only true method of capturing the true feeling of Go-Go, where every single teacher was dancing in the aisles like they were at the Maverick Room, Chapter III or Cheiry's back in the day.
Participants were invited to develop and submit lessons for review by a curriculum specialist to be included on the website www.thebeatisgogo.com for free access by classroom teachers.