Arts Desk

R.I.P. Go-go Pioneer Little Benny: Chuck Brown & Others Reminisce

 

Little Benny photo from Soldierette

Early Sunday morning, Washington D.C. lost one of go-go’s pioneering musicians, Anthony “Little Benny” Harley, who at age 46, according to published sources, died in his sleep, after having performed with Chuck Brown the night before at the Capitol Heights Ballroom in Capitol Heights, MD on a bill with EU, Bela Dona, and Da Mixx Band. Little Benny joined Rare Essence as a teenager in the 1970s, playing trumpet, adding distinctive  husky-voiced vocals, and leading their choreographed dance steps.  In the mid-80s he formed his own group, Little Benny & the Masters, best known for the catchy “Cat in the Hat,” and this always busy musician later performed with Proper Utensils, the Legends of Go-go, a reunited old-school Rare Essence, and Chuck Brown.  Harley recently had back surgery and was walking with a cane.  An autopsy is going to be performed.  Mayor Fenty issued a statement, The Washington Post noted his death this morning, and WUSA channel 9 news did so last night.  Fans have been paying tribute to his one-of-a-kind skills  on WPGC’s website and the Facebook sites of the P.A. Palace  and EU’s Sugar Bear, to name a few.  Funeral information or an address for charitable donations has not yet been provided.  Chuck Brown, Kip Lornell, Tom Goldfogle,  and Soldierette offer their thoughts to the City Paper below. 

George Washington University professor, and co-author of “The Beat: Go-Go’s Fusion of Funk and Hip-hop,”  Kip Lornell  recalled, “The first time I met Benny was about 12 years ago when I went to his home to interview  him for "The Beat".   Benny was most gracious and opened up his home.  He patiently answered my questions and it was clear how important go-go was to him and, by extension his family and his peers.  Benny was always a solid trumpet player since his days at Ballou High School but it was his singing and warm presence on stage that placed him near the top of the "most asked to come up on stage" list around town.  In addition to his days with Rare Essence and, later with Little Benny and the Masters,  Mr. Harley often appeared with the Godfather.  There seemed to be a special warmth between Chuck and Benny.  Whenever Benny came on stage, Chuck seemed to feel utterly at ease knowing that everything would be kicking just fine when he turned the stage over to Benny who was always exuberant, exciting, and professional. Because he was so enthusiastic Benny could hype a crowd without even trying, it was just his way.”  

Rene Dickerson, better known as Soldierette, a longtime DC blogger who also managed Benny’s group “The Legends of Go-go,” said “Benny was my friend and confidant. I've seen Benny perform thousands of times; the first time being with the Masters. I was his personal manager and promoter during the heyday of "The Legends of Go-Go" so I've seen him perform in tiny basements to great halls to nightclubs to little shacks in the hills of Virginia to huge coliseums.  My last time seeing him perform was the night that I left DC for Illinois. We had the most fun we'd had in years and he wanted me to make sure I took pictures of not just him, but of everyone that wanted to be in a picture with him.”  She added, “One of my fondest memories of Benny is him calling me every morning, for years, at around 4am, just to talk until it was time to get his kids up and take them to school. I would be dead asleep, but would get up and put some coffee on and keep his company after a night of performing.  He had great plans for the rest of his life, and even greater plans for the kids in his life. His love of children is something most didn't even know about him. He dreamed of a children's music school that taught kids how to read music, play an instrument, and especially carry on the history of go-go music. He would perform anywhere for free when it involved little kids. He left behind a 5 month old baby who would never get to know how special he was.” 

Regarding Benny’s place in the DC go-go scene she concluded, “Benny was important to the industry because he always kept it competitive. He was always looking to be different from the rest. He'd start a new band when no one thought he could. He would show up on someone's cd out of the blue. He would come back when everybody was saying he had lost his voice, or was on drugs, or was doing whatever the popular rumor was; he always came back. He just loved music and would study it as part of his life; part of his being. He was fascinated by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. He wanted more for go-go and he wanted to be the one who took it to that level. Other talkers and musicians looked up to him as the one to strive to be like, or to pass on the circuit…He always made his band members stronger players, and that is what will live on past his life with us.”

Tom Goldfogle, Chuck Brown's manager, stated  "I can only tell you that Benny is sewn into the fabric of this community and its culture and he brought so much joy to so many.  The energy he brought to the stage everynight was unparalleled.  He lived life to the fullest and loved to perform. "   Chuck Brown said, "I am heartbroken at the loss of my dear friend Lil Benny.  I used to go to some of the Rare Essence rehearsals in the early days and watch them.  I was honored to produce their first record, Body Moves.  One day when I was not feeling well and my voice was giving out  I asked Benny if he would come to the show  and help me out. That was sixteen years ago, and he’s been with us on stage ever since. There is nobody like him.  No one can replace him.  He was such a crowd pleaser, a motivator, always had a positive outlook.  He was a true pioneer, a music legend.  He performed the songs we all grew up on and loved. He took it to another level – every night. Words cannot express how much he will be missed."

* Photo from Soldierette's website

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  • sharone

    words just cannot express what i am feeling right now, to hear that we lost lil benny, he was a unique voice in the gogo experience, i remember seeing rare essence at the atlas, cherry's, the coliseum, and first learned of the group at the basket ball court 14th and irving, so yes he will be missed. RIP lil benny

  • EM Glass

    There will never be another like Benny. Though many have tried, many have attempted the original inner city sound of Washington, DC. Benny had it on lock. And once you saw Benny, especially during the early inner city groovers and early Rare Essence days, it would have blown you away.

    I knew Benny from UDC, he knew me in the early days, as we would follow Essence from Northwest and meet up with other GO-GO heads that primarily came from DC’s inner city. Benny was a five star general for the golden era of GO-GO. Yes, Chuck was the alpha, and Sugar Bear and Big Tony were extraordinary, But Essence and Benny was the galaxy, the band that every one mentioned in one fell swoop. The RE groove. It revolved around Benny, and absolutely no one catch match him in his glory.

    He could control crews, knew how to keep rivalries from brewing. He understood DC and the area soon took him under his wing. He shed light on South East Washington and her nuances. He bought the DC flavor and speech patterns into his sound, you can hear it in songs like…the one on one, get on the wagon, roll call, who comes to boogie down, cat in the hat, he was the master of call and response…when he would say,”syce them on up”…the whole crowd would just do as he asked.

    He was Chuck, when Chuck wasn’t around. When Trouble and EU blew up. Essence was around; crushing what was left of the GO-GO scene. And nothing touched Essence; yes Essence was plagued with bad publicity for bringing the most hardened of DC’s inner city neighborhoods together. You can believe that nobody wanted to see the GO-GO end, and Benny in the early days could control the rivalries. When things got rowdy, you would always here Benny or Jasfunk, mention the word “Bama’s”, and they would play and crank even louder and harder.

    Even during the drug war era, the PCP era…one of Benny’s song would include the chant…”What’s that fuss, I ain’t got no dust, what’s gonna set you back, I ain’t got no wack attack”…meaning you didn’t need drugs to listen to GO-GO…though GO-GO and drug use for many years went hand in hand.

    But Benny kept it moving. And he never forgot where he came from. In 1979 when one of my crew members was killed, we asked Benny and Jasfunk to mention our killed friends name and dedicate the GO-GO to him, because he loved Essence and Benny so much. And Benny did it just like that. And it didn’t matter where he went in town outside of his beloved South East, we loved him for that, he was a regulator and a peace maker. There were very few who could command the respect of the audience like Benny. He would always say “now listen here”…that meant pay attention I am about to school you on what’s good about GO-GO. And when he asked you “where you wanna go”? You would know you were at the “GO-GO”.

    It was big deal to back in the day just to get up the funds so that your neighborhood could rep itself at the “GO-GO”. Benny was a treasure and he should be remembered not just with his music, but with a foundation and a trust for future “GO-GO” musicians.

  • stevek

    Friday June 11,2010 A 9a-11a Service will be held for Lil Benny @ the DC Convention Center section E

  • http://washingtoncitypaper.com JeJuan

    # 44...."BIG MACK" IS WHAT YOU WANNA BE CALLED...I FEEL SORRY NO 1 LOVES YOU AS MUCH !!!, SORRY YOU ARE NOT THE "NEXT AMERICAN IDOL" OR ANYHTING ELSE....

  • sedcdude

    ayy gay MAC

    that's some coward shit to post slim, but on the real his wife was from SOUTHEAST, so I'm quite sure she wasn't a victim and if you are from DC you know it takes "MANAGEMENT" to tame a SOUFEAST chick!

    With that said, no matter what his vices, weaknesses or indiscretions he was a GREAT MUSICIAN, BAND LEADER AND MATE, A GOOD MAN and a FATHER!!

    Have some respect you clown!

    NIGGERS ain't shit!

  • http://WASHINGTONCITYPAPER.COM MONNIE FROM UPTOWN

    I met LiL Benny back in the 80's from Joe Clark and Dave Rueban they use to promote the go-go shows. Benny you were a sweetheart and will be missed. God shared you with us all you gave us a testimony threw your music and I just want to say job well done. R.I.P. (Big Mac If your living in a glass house don't throw no stones) Respect that man and his family. No matter what the good out weigh the bad,and we still loved him. So get some business asshole!!!

  • LaKesia Valentine

    R.I.P Mr. Benny

    I was a little gurl when I first listened to Cat In Da Hat. Mt brothers were Chuck and Lil Benny fans and they got me into Go-Go at a young age. He was and still is the best that has ever done it. To the people that do not have anything good to say about Mr. Benny or his family should just leave their thoughts to their selves. You don't know how words really can hurt the family,friend and fans this mad has. I will Pray that Big Mac's family would not have to hear bad thigs about him when it is his time to go.

    P.S. To Mr. Benny's family my prayers are with you all at this hard time. He Was and Still Is The Beast That Ever Did It.

  • Sassy Sharon

    When I first came too DC. I didn't know about GO GO. I met EU AND CHUCK BRONW, RARE ESSENCE AND LIL BENNY. Once I saw LIL BENNY I Was hooK on GO GO for LIFE. His energy and his deep voice and he was sexy just made you want to get up and dance and shake all night. WE WILL TRULY MISS YOU LIL BENNY! RIP BENNY! GO GO FOR LIFE.

  • Cookie

    I didn't know Lil Benny personally, but I grow up listening to RE, Lil Benny & The Masters, Peace Makers, Trouble Funk, EU, Backyard, Reds In The Boys and Chuck just to name a few. I loved his music, his voice and the message his music sends. I always believe that there is a message in every song, if you just listen to the words.

    To Mr. Anthony "Lil Benny" Hartley's wife, I say keep your head up and stay strong. God has your back and he watches over you and your family. He will not give you more then you can handle. As much as it may hurt that your life partner, best friend, confidant, lover and children's father is gone in the flesh, he is still with you in spirit and alway remember, you will meet again some day. So when you start feeling down and missing him, just remember that this is not the end, you will see him again.

    You don't know me but if you ever feel like your heart is getting to heavy and you need to breath, or if you should every need to talk or just need to borrow an ear to listen, you can hit me up on amazingbodymagicparty@yahoo.com. I am an excellent listeners and would never betray you confidence. So, ignore comments. Some people just don't know any better and will down whatever they can to bring others down. Allow no one to still your joy. Your are God's child and he has your back so again stay strong and keep your head up because 99% of the comments that I have read, your husband left a very lasting impression on a lot people and he affected a lot of lives in a positive manner. You know they your funeral is when you can tell how many hearts you have touched and how many people really loved you. Well considering that there was over 1,000 people in attendance at Lil Benny's homecoming service, says to me that he was most definitely loved. A lot of people had mad respect for him and he obviously touched a lot of heart/lives. That is a tremendous accomplishment for a man so young and in the prime of his life. My condolenses go out to you and your family's. He will be missed but never forgotten. His legacy will live on. The pain and hurt of him missing him will take a while to go away, but I can promise you, in time it will get better. It may not seem like it right now but it will.

    Peace and blessing to you and your family. REST IN PEACE, Mr. Anthony "Lil Benny" Hartley.

    "For those who are using Lil Benny's death to lash out in a negative way by attacking him and is wife, I say, "THE DEVIL IS A LIAR and I REBUKE HIM IN THE NAME OF JESUS." People love to spread rumors and now is not the time for hateration. Obviously he loved his wife, he married her and she loves him. That's all that matters, so I say to you MR. BIG MAC, your comment was very out-of-line, disrespectful, and not necessary. You must have some serious animosity in you heart to post such filth.

    I am sure his family is mourning right now and the comments you made are straight disrespectful at such a time when their hearts are heavy. No one has the right to tarnish he and his wife's name or make judgments but GOD. So I say to you back off, and don't block your blessing with foolishness. Repent and ask God for forgiveness."

    Peace

  • Rose

    Pastor Deron Cloud said it best at Benny's funeral. You can't judge a man by what he has done in the beginning or middle of his life. We all make mistakes. BIG MAC what a heartless and disrespectful attempt to discredit this man. Nothing you can say will ever change the love and the way this city loves Lil Benny. The experiences and interactions will out weigh all the hate. Benny had a beautiful spirit regardless of his faults. The love he showed to family, friends, fans and to his music and city will life in our heart forever. Even in his death he still inspiring musicians. He has made is mark on this earth will you when your time comes.

    Prayers continue to go out to his mother and wife, children and family.

    R.I.P. Lil Benny we love you!

  • http://soldierette.com Soldierette!!

    Since leaving DC, I never lost touch with my true friends, and Lil' Benny was one of them. He touched my heart in ways that I never expected, from him and his wife getting married to trying to have a baby to me being the first person he called with the news - "Soldierette!, we're pregnant!" I just screamed and laughed with them because they tried and tried for that little precious gem they conceived.

    Whoever the coward is that posted something about him beating his wife, your mother should be ashamed of you. Hatred is an ugly trait, and I can tell you first-hand, Lil' Benny steered away from haters, drama, and especially violence. He NEVER hit anyone. The last fight in his life was at a club where someone was hitting a young lady and Benny stepped in and asked the guy to stop. He was totally against domestic violence, so I'm here to say that you are a liar.

    Needless to say, Lil' Benny left a legacy of good for the people of DC that loved him and his music. People miss him AND his music. Please think of his precious little baby, now just about 8 months old, growing up without her father. He loved that baby to death. He kept the baby every day after she was born while his wife went back to work. He wanted to get married, have a baby with his wife, and start fresh and new with his new found love. Any loving person can't find fault in someone chasing his dreams. They bought a home together, away from the fuss, where they found peace, love, and harmony in FAMILY times together. He was on the 2nd part of his adult life and loving it.

    Please think of his new baby and, if you can, donate to her trust fund. Her mother set it up so that his child would not go without. His adult kids had him for many years, and all of the blessings that afforded them. The baby didn't have that chance; that blessing, to know how wonderful her dad was. She will know him through all of his fans and his music, and of course, everyone who loved him. Think of her when you think of him. She is a helpless little baby who looks just like her daddy.

    Take care of yourselves, and those around you,

    Solja~

  • steve k

    September 26 is Little Benny's birthday. RIP

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