Arts Desk

Chuck Brown: A Family Affair

On Aug. 31, 2001, Chuck Brown played one of his annual birthday concerts at the 9:30 Club. It was a kind of go-go carnival; E.U., Backyard Band, and 911 opened for the Godfather. (The whole thing would later be released as a double album and DVD.) My uncle had done some legal work for Brown, so when I told him my younger brother and I were going to the show, he put me in touch with Tom Goldfogle, Brown's manager, who arranged for us to get backstage to meet Brown.

By the time we found Goldfogle and were ushered back to the VIP area above the stage, E.U.'s set was over. Brown couldn't have been more welcoming. "What took y'all so long to get here?" Brown asked, grinning and giving me and my brother warm hugs. A big birthday cake and bottles of champagne were arranged on a table nearby. "Your uncle kept me out of a lot of trouble," he said. We chatted for a few minutes, he signed an autograph for our youngest brother, who was off at college, and then he handed us slips of paper to write our names and the names of the friends we brought to the show down so he could call them out later. We told him he didn't have to go to any trouble for us, but he insisted, quite correctly, that it wasn't any trouble at all.

More well-wishers were constantly coming through, people who actually knew Chuck, so we stepped off to the balcony to watch Backyard with some members of 911, who were passing around some of the bottles of champagne (true to the lyrics of their biggest hit, the 911 guys took all the booze onstage with them for their own set). The view from the balcony was pretty good, but we wanted to get back down to the floor to see Brown, so we said goodbye to the Godfather and went downstairs. A few songs into his set, he played Sly Stone's "Family Affair," which was when he shouted our names out.

Eleven years later, the fact that Chuck Brown called my name out in the go-go is still kind of hard to believe. Last night, when I picked my eight-month-old daughter up after work, "Family Affair" came on the radio, and she started wiggling around to the beat. Here in D.C., the Godfather will always be a family affair. Rest in peace, Chuck.

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