Despite the tense relationship between go-go music and city officials throughout the 1980s and 1990s, fans kept the genre alive and well. Private businesses and venues continued to provide a home for the music that had brought so many Washingtonians together, and go-go became a staple throughout many DC neighborhoods. One business that had gained attention for its ties to go-go was a cellphone and communications store located at the corner of 7th Street and Florida Avenue NW in Shaw. The store’s owner had used a large speaker outside of the store to play go-go music for passersby in an effort to attract new customers since it opened in 1995. For many years, the store had gone without incident for playing the music, and many enjoyed the unique marketing strategy.
Similarly to the many go-go clubs that had faced growing scrutiny, the cell phone store fell victim to criticism by a neighbor who did not enjoy the music playing all day. In 2019, a Shaw resident filed a formal complaint with both the city and the parent company of the cell phone store that the music was distracting and disruptive to the neighborhood. The complaint resulted in the street going silent, as the store owner was forced to stop playing music. While complaints about the music had been present before the complete silence, many had grown to know the store as one of the last places that sold go-go CDs and recordings. Other neighbors, activists, and go-go fans quickly took action to protect the well-liked store and the go-go music it had become popular for.
Howard University senior Julien Broomfield had heard about the incident in Shaw and, along with others, created the hashtag #DontMuteDC in order to raise awareness of the prejudice against go-go music – as well as call attention to the lack of preservation of the genre within the city. Countless other DC residents and fans began using the hashtag and sharing their stories on social media, resulting in national attention to the issue. The story even reached the CEO of the communications company of the cell phone store, who supported the store owner in playing go-go music and working with the neighborhood to play it at an appropriate level. After only a few weeks of silence, the street was once again filled with the sounds of go-go.
While this particular story ended on a positive note, the incident had ignited a flame for many who had witnessed the long history of attacks on go-go. Additionally, the continued demographic shifts in many historically-Black communities in DC made it even more important to document and preserve the music, especially with fewer and fewer local businesses being dedicated to the genre. The Don’t Mute DC hashtag and movement had taken off, and the attention brought to the history of go-go needed some resolution as well. The protests happened in numerous spots around the neighborhood, including the Reeves Center, the former site of Club U.
Previous actions by the city had memorialized go-go’s founder, Chuck Brown, including the dedication of Chuck Brown Park and Chuck Brown Day in 2014, and the earlier designation of Chuck Brown Way (7th Street NW between T Street and Florida Avenue in Shaw) in 2009. The celebrations commemorate the late musician’s contributions to go-go and the city, and includes a number of festivities today. However, many called for increased support to honor the genre, its musicians, and the history of go-go within DC.
After the situation at the cell phone store, many local activists, historians, and residents worked together to create more comprehensive and in-depth efforts to document the history of go-go, the music, and what it meant (and continues to mean) for DC’s history and culture. Archival collections dedicated to go-go music were created by the DC Public Library, with an exhibit established at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, and a proposed Go-Go Museum has garnered support for future education and preservation.
One of many significant signals of support, though, came from the city government, which declared go-go as the official music of Washington, DC through the unanimous passage of the Go-Go Music of the District of Columbia Designation Act of 2019. This legislation, signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser on February 19, 2020, finally gave credit to the genre that defined communities and the city for decades, with many optimistic that future generations will be able to love and enjoy the music just as they did.
This site is a stop on the Exploring DC's Go-Go and Punk Music Scenes Tour.