The Answers Issue: I found a cassette titled "Adams Morgan," by Vicky Troy and Charles Ragusa. It's INCREDIBLY catchy. What's the deal?

When Melody Records on Connecticut Avenue NW was closing, I went in on the last day and bought a cassette titled “Adams Morgan,” by Vicky Troy and Charles Ragusa. I finally found a cassette player, listened to it, and it’s INCREDIBLY catchy (and a bit cheesy). Everyone I’ve played it for loves it and gets addicted to it. I’d love to know more about its history.

That song is catchy, isn’t it? And so rich in quotable couplets! Like, “Look at the people they’re so unique/all of the languages which they speak.” And, “You want to stop, you know you should/cuz this is a real good neighborhood.” Plus, “Adams Morgan is so divine/I'll always love two triple-zero nine.”

And my favorite:“Where do you find diversity?/Columbia Road around 18th Street!”

Vicky Troy and Charles Ragusa wrote their reggae ode to the neighborhood in 1985, when they both lived in the Promenade Apartments on Columbia Road NW. At the time, Troy had a jazzy pop group, the Loose Fish Band, that played around town; Ragusa was a bartender juggling several artistic pursuits. When Troy mentioned her band was booked to play that year’s Adams Morgan Day Festival, Ragusa suggested they write “an Adams Morgan theme song,” he says.

The festival was approaching, so they penned “Adams Morgan” in a single night. Because of how Ragusa sang the first verse—“look at the people they’re so unique”—they decided it could work as a reggae song, Troy remembers. “We were a bunch of white folks trying to make a reggae record,” she says, so they booked time at Ivy City’s Lion & Fox Recording Studios, which specializes in reggae music. Jim Fox, an engineer who’s worked with acts like Black Uhuru, oversaw the session, helping the song sound “more like authentic reggae” with whistle sounds, junkyard drums, and a Caribbean syncopation, Troy says.

They made several hundred cassettes featuring “Adams Morgan” and a dub remix of the song. Ragusa brought the tape to clubs and record stores around town, and Troy and Ragusa were interviewed about it on what was then the soft-rock-oriented WMAL-FM.

The day of the 1985 Adams Morgan Day Festival, the song got another boost from the weather. When rain forced the festival to postpone live music, the stages began playing “Adams Morgan” over their PAs—Troy and Ragusa had provided the festival with several cassettes. “Pretty soon the whole crowd was singing ‘Adams Morgan,’” Troy says. When the rain stopped, her band played the song live.

These days, Ragusa owns a pet-sitting business in Vienna, Va., while Troy is a massage therapist who lives in Lake Barcroft, Va. She also has a band called Aki Mother. Both say they’re proud of their song’s melody and rich recording, but in separate interviews, they both suggested they might have approached the song a little differently today. Of the song’s multicultural message, Troy says “it’s not politically correct to say ‘so many cultures, they all blend in one' …you still maintain your individuality.” A diverse neighborhood like Adams Morgan, she says, is more like “a mixed salad, not a melting pot.”

For his part, Ragusa says that if he and Troy had more time, “we would’ve approached it more as a song and less of a jingle … I could maybe be more esoteric in the song, make it more substantial than it is. But it’s definitely a great song. Very catchy.”

Listen: Vicky Troy and Charles Ragusa

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Download: "Adams Morgan"

Our Readers Say

Very cool, as was Adams Morgan in the '80s. I lived there then and have been back again for almost 8 years. Might be a little more "civilized" now in some ways, but it was a genuine community then in terms of people, places and knowing folks on the street of all sorts, whether it was 7 am or 2 am.

But I guess nostalgia can be imperfect, just as changing times represent a changing society. The beat goes on.
This is like finding a time capsule from 1985 and the sentiments of the song held mostly true to 2005. But the last eight years has seen dramatic change in property values, rents, and people.

It would seem that to blow off change in Adams Morgan, and the end of the diversity this funky song speaks of, as a natural consequence of development is to ignore how poor planning can negatively affect entire communities.

The Adams Morgan hotel is a great example of poor planning -- evidenced by planning officials, local landowners, and developers together choosing to ignore the voices of the diverse families and working individuals of many backgrounds who simply want to better understand how a luxury hotel dropped next to their homes on the surrounding blocks they've lived on for many years, even decades before 1985, will ultimately affect them -- their rents, livability, and sustainability.

The Champlain Street Neighbors have voiced concerns about sociological factors which are highlighted and even demanding review by the City's own thoughtful Comprehensive Plan -- a plan developed in detail and through great effort and time from many interested residents, groups and officials, but which was systematically overlooked during the zoning process review for the proposed hotel.

Whether for, against, or indifferent about the proposed Adams Morgan hotel, a planning process which gets all the voices and concerns on the table in as transparent a way as possible concerning any major projects in the City is a process we all should expect in the 21st Century here in the Nation's Capital.

There is already too much disenfranchisement happening to our City, the zoning and planning processes don't need to also disenfranchise people's voices, especially those voices of who have made DC and Adams Morgan the unique place to be.
There was no Adams Morgan Day when I was coming up. I was raised in the 17th hundred block of T Street, NW. During the transformation of the neighborhood, it became diversified. I attended Morgan Schools (known now as Marie H. Reed), that sits there now. Mrs. Ree was a community activist, who I believe lived on Seaton Street. I remember her well as a young girl. She would come to Morgan School regularly. Many, many memories of that era. Happy Hollow Play Ground, The High's Store, tht sold milk and the best icecream, The 5 and Dime Store on the corner of Florida and 18th Street, Standard Drug Store at the corner of 18th & Columbia Road. Aving Yong Farre (sic) (a frence icecream shop) at 18th and Columbia Road, a Safeway and Giant Food Store side by side). WOW.
Co-songwriters Vicky Troy and Charles Ragusa have the Adams Morgan song for sale on reverbnation/akimother. One half the proceeds go to charity.

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