Go-Go Performers Coach Next Generation in D.C. Classrooms
What an experience to see renowned go-go musicians coaching and mentoring students in D.C. classrooms. Students perform with expert guidance, ask questions, and wear out the performers with requests for photos and autographs before they leave. Meanwhile, the go-go performers share their talents with the younger generation and gain new-found respect for the dedication and hard work of classroom teachers. The visits are part of a Teaching for Change Teach the Beat initiative in partnership with DC Public Schools called “Teach the Beat: Go-Go Goes to School: Artists and Scholars in the Classroom” designed to to infuse D.C.’s rich and unique tradition of go-go in the curriculum. Go-go performers and scholars provide in-school coaching to D.C. public and public charter school teachers and students in music, social studies, and language arts classrooms.
The first round of visits (June – September 2015) were funded by an Arts Innovate grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH). Additional funds were contributed by donors to the #NzingaNewYear campaign. The DCPS Office of the Chief of Schools contracted for 13 school visits from May to September 2016 for elementary, middle, and high schools. In 2017, Teaching for Change received a grant from the Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation for visits in the spring and fall.
Here are the visits to date. We will continue to post photos and highlights after each visit.
Click on each photo to see a full photo album and video clips from the respective session.
Claire Sontag’s second grade class was joined by older students who participate in Seaton’s DC SCORES soccer program for a visit from go-go drummer JuJu House on May 16. Students arrived in the music room to find a child-sized drumset, JuJu’s roto toms, and a cowbell set out at the front of the room. Every student had the opportunity to play the instruments, with instruction from JuJu. JuJu demonstrated the difference between a go-go beat and a bounce beat, and explained that go-go was created in D.C. Finally, the children got up and danced to the beat of JuJu’s drumming. The following week, JuJu returned to Seaton for a cultural heritage celebration.
April 4: JuJu at Capital City PCS
Sixty high school seniors, students of Capital City Public Charter School U.S. government and D.C. history teacher Ben Williams, participated in a go-go workshop with legendary go-go drummer, JuJu House on April 4. Mr. Williams prepared students for the visit with some of Teaching for Change’s lessons on go-go music. Students came to the workshop with questions for JuJu and one of the students provided JuJu’s formal introduction to the class.
JuJu played music for the students and asked them to share what they know about go-go. He demonstrated the difference between a go-go beat and a bounce beat, and explained that the congo and the drums in go-go music never play the same beat. Students asked questions about how JuJu started playing, his father’s musical career, what continents he has visited, and the history of go-go. One student asked about the origins of the “beat your feet” dance move, and JuJu explained that it has it’s origins in church.
A lot of people don’t realize that there’s a connection between church and go-go, but that’s how people used to move when they felt the spirit on Sunday. A lot of the music, the dances–they got their start in church.
Some students demonstrated the chop and the beat your feet for the class.
The workshop was greatly appreciated, as noted by these two students,
It was very insightful to learn more about JuJu and D.C. culture regarding go-go. His visit completely changed my view on the scope of go-go music.—Evelin Guevara
I learned that go-go music has spread worldwide and that people from all over the world appreciate go-go music. I never knew that you could make a career out of go-go music and be so successful doing it. —Max Leathers
Mr. Williams reflected,
It was wonderful to have Ju Ju House at Capital City today. His visit reminded me that bringing experts into the classroom is a powerful experience for students that cannot be replicated otherwise.
This visit was made possible by a grant from the Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation.
September 27: Sweet Cherie at Raymond Education Campus
Go-go performer Sweet Cherie led a Teach the Beat workshop with approximately twenty sixth graders in Mr. Dylan Nowak’s music class at Raymond Education Campus. She was introduced by a student who chronicled her long history as a go-go performer in DC. Sweet Cherie began the workshop by explaining the percussion beats in go-go and asking for examples of these instruments while Nowak passed them out to the students. Sweet Cherie and Mr. Nowak modeled rhythms for the different instruments and the students excitedly picked it right up.
Sweet Cherie explained the role of the “talker” as an integral part of go-go that includes the audience as part of the performance. Acting as the Talker while the students played, Sweet Cherie welcomed them all to class before demonstrating call and response. The students then helped her compile a list of go-go musicians. Sweet Cherie was wearing a Chuck Brown shirt, which all the students excitedly recognized as the Godfather of go-go. From there they talked about the different legends leading up to today’s generation of crank go-go bands.
The students and Mr. Nowak brought the beat back while Ms. Cherie performed “Sardines” with the students calling back. To close, students had the opportunity to ask Sweet Cherie questions. They asked what inspired her, how she became such an influential performer, as well as about her experience of playing with Chuck Brown for so many years. On their way out, the students wanted autographs and continued to call their thank yous.
September 27: JuJu at Garfield Elementary
Fourth and fifth graders in Mr. Brach Cobb’s music class participated in a go-go workshop with legendary go-go drummer, JuJu House on September 27. JuJu introduced himself and shared some history of go-go music and then said to the children, “But today I want you to teach me about go-go music. This is your music. It comes from you and belongs to you, so I want you to teach me.”
JuJu proceeded to call students up in groups of four to improvise on various percussive instruments. He guided each one of them in discovering the rhythm for their instrument. Once each member of the Go-Go quartet knew their part, he asked another student to call “One, Two!” and the rest of the class would respond “Gimme that beat!” Each group of four would synthesize their parts and share their unique go-go rhythm. This became a “battle of the bands” and students were thoroughly inspired and engaged. During the final round, everyone danced and celebrated the creativity of one another. Everyone finished feeling like a winner.
September 23: JuJu at Randle Elementary School
Fifth graders at Randle Highlands Elementary School enjoyed a hands-on go-go workshop taught by legendary drummer, William ‘JuJu’ House.
With JuJu’s guidance, students excitedly took to the assorted drums, tambourines, and other percussion instruments and played basic go-go beats to the delight of their classmates, teachers, and JuJu himself. Vocalist Staci Payne (currently of Be’la Dona) also joined the session, and the visit quickly became a boisterous ‘in-the-pocket’ battle between the boys and the girls.
After the battle (which included a rousing rendition of Adele’s/Back Yard Band’s “Hello”), JuJu taught the young Washingtonians the history of go-go, and shared a picture from his phone of a photo of himself and other go-go legends in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Everyone was invited to see him perform during the Museum’s opening festival that weekend.
September 22: Sweet Cherie at Charles Hart Middle School
Go-go performer Sweet Cherie led a Teach the Beat workshop with approximately 60 sixth through eighth graders in Ms. Pierce’s music classes at Charles Hart Middle School. She began the workshop by asking what the students knew about go-go already and telling the students about the history of go-go music.
Cherie taught the students the base go-go beat and explained the roles of various band members in a go-go band, including the “talker.” She then led the students in call and response, including “Sardines and Pork ‘n Beans” and calling out student’s names and neighborhoods. Students then joined Cherie at the piano, where they played beats and sang along while she played Backyard Band’s version of “Hello,” a go-go version of Rihanna’s “Work,” and more. After the class, students crowded around Cherie for autographs.
June 7: Sweet Cherie at Patterson Elementary School
Go-go performer Sweet Cherie led a Teach the Beat workshop with preschoolers in Ms. Lester’s class at Patterson Elementary School. She began the workshop by asking the the children how much they knew about go-go music and talking to them about Chuck Brown and the origins of go-go music. Sweet Cherie passed out drums, tambourines, cow bells, and maracas to the students. Excited, they immediately began to play their instruments.
Sweet Cherie did call and response exercises with the students and played the song “Sardines and Pork ‘n Beans” with them. She taught them about the role of the “talker” and the importance of drums in go-go music. One young girl had such a great sense of rhythm that Sweet Cherie would always call on her for the base beat. Many students took turns on the keyboard, some expressing that they wanted one for themselves.
To their delight, Sweet Cherie played the Nae-Nae song on her keyboard for the preschoolers and they danced and continued to play their instruments. The students happily exclaimed “Thank you for the music!” at the end of the session. They all said that they wanted her to come back and do more sessions with them. The visit was funded by the office of the Chief of the Schools of DCPS.
June 2: JuJu at Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School
Marching Band Students at Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School (Phelps ACE) in northeast DC were incredibly grateful to have legendary go-go drummer JuJu House facilitate a rhythm workshop for them after school on June 2. Music teacher Andrew Green requested Ju Ju because of his expertise and ability to “help his students take their performance skills to the next level.” Specifically he was hoping JuJu could teach the students how to separate the rhythms of Bounce Beats and Pocket Beats to different parts of the drumline.
JuJu did just that and so much more. After an introduction of himself and his generational history with music and go-go, he immediately launched into the lessons. He first listened to the songs the band played during the recent Emancipation Day parade in D.C. From there he worked with the students to understand how to improvise and enhance their part with bounce, pocket, and go-go beats. Through consistent affirmation of their hard work and talent, he worked with students individually, in sections, and with the entire band. From the guitar and congas to the keyboard and brass instruments, JuJu helped them to understand how it all comes together with the percussion and traps holding the beat. He held them accountable and assessed their understanding through a demonstration of the different beats. These focused students were up to the challenge and impressed JuJu with their skills.
Finally, through a series of questions and conversations, JuJu and the students improvised and created their own tune—a mix of go-go, funk and reggae—that the students decided to call “JuJu-Phelps Beat.” They promised to fine tune it and perform it if JuJu promised to come back and jam with them. He happily agreed. The visit was funded by Office of the Chief of Schools of DCPS.
June 1: Sugar Bear at Ballou High School
Sugar Bear, a graduate of Ballou, visited the new Ballou High School building for the first time to the delight of the music students in Mr. Watson’s class. When entering the building, staff members shouted “Sugar Bear”! When he entered the classroom, he was greeted with a round of applause from students. After sharing some history of go-go, Sugar Bear said, “Lets jam.” Student jumped up and got their instruments. Over the next hour, Sugar Bar played various tunes with the class. When a new tune was introduced, Mr. Watson and Sugar Bear coached students on how to play it. The visit was funded by Office of the Chief of Schools of DCPS.
May 31: Sweet Cherie at Johnson Middle School
Sweet Cherie did a go-go workshop with 6th grade students at Johnson Middle School. The students entered the library excited to meet Sweet Cherie. Students were asked if they had been to a go-go before. One students shared how is older brother had taken him to a go go and that he loved the experience. After describing her own history with go-go, Sweet Cherie asked the students to make some go-go beats on the tables. Students kept the beat while Sweet Cherie played some popular songs on her keyboard. At one point, a student go up and began to sing along to the surprise and delight of his classmates. Another student played a song on Sweet Cherie’s keyboard while she backed him up with a go-go beat. The visit was funded by Office of the Chief of Schools of DCPS.
May 27: Ju Ju at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan
Third grade students in Mr. Strother’s music class at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (DCPS) got a special treat on May 27, when go-go legend Ju Ju came to give a lesson. Ju Ju asked the students about their favorite musicians, then coached the students as teams of four on the rototoms, conga, cow bell, and tambourine. Students competed to see who had the tightest band, and quickly discovered that in order to succeed, they needed to listen to each other and work together as a team. Ju Ju had the students copy his beats in their seats and in front of the class. The visit was funded by Office of the Chief of Schools of DCPS. See more photos and video here.
May 20: Sweet Cherie at Simon Elementary School
Fourth graders in Ms. Shanklin’s music class at Simon Elementary School (DCPS) hosted a Teach the Beat workshop with go-go performer Sweet Cherie. All of the students participated, learned, and enjoyed.
Sweet Cherie opened with a talk about the history and culture of go-go. Then she invited students to play go-go music with her. The teacher had instruments ready, calling students up in small groups by their birth months to select from the drums, tambourines, cow bells, and maracas. While playing songs such as “Sardines and Pork ‘n Beans,” Sweet Cherie wove in lessons about the go-go beat, call-and-response, and the role of the keyboard player.
Many of the students (including the drummer pictured below) are part of the schools drum line. The Be’la Dona performers noted that the young girl (pictured below to the right) could be a future lead singer in their band. The visit was funded by Office of the Chief of Schools of DCPS.
May 20: Ju Ju at Houston Elementary School
The young students who participate in Mr. Wood’s drumline at Houston Elementary School in Ward 7 got a special visit on May 20 from renowned go-go drummer Ju Ju House. Ju Ju started the visit by gathering the students together to talk about their favorite musicians. Students saw pictures of Ju Ju, Chuck Brown, and other go-go performers in magazines. They clapped along to a go-go beat and belted out the chorus to go-go classic “Sardines.”
Then students got their drums and Ju Ju gave them a got a drumline lesson. He showed the bass drummers and then the snare drummers a go-go beat, then focused on drumline basics. The visit was funded by Office of the Chief of Schools of DCPS.
May 11: Sweet Cherie, John Buchanan, Sugar Bear, Natalie Hopkinson, and Ju Ju at Sidwell Friends School
On May 11, Cherie “Sweet Cherie” Mitchell-Agurs, Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott, John Buchanan, William “Ju Ju” House, and Natalie Hopkinson visited Sidwell Friends School to give students a sense of the rich history of go-go in the D.C. area, its roots as an art form, and its evolution over the years. The school wanted students to learn about go-go in advance of the go-go dance that weekend, a decades long annual tradition.
Teaching for Change and the performers offered two classroom workshops followed by a presentation in the weekly all school assembly.
One of the workshops engaged students in our meet and greet activity. Participants take on the role of a key person or institution in go-go history and interview each other. For the session at Sidwell, the artists and scholars played themselves to the delight of the participants. Following the activity, participants worked in small groups to write questions about go-go. The performers and scholars were each assigned to one of the small groups to respond to the questions. This led to a highly participatory and intimate dialogue.
In the assembly, author Natalie Hopkinson introduced each artist and invited them to talk about the history of go-go and their respective role as artists. She also took questions for the audience. One student asked about the role of improvisation and another asked what the performers think of the new bounce beat. Another said, “Can you play more music for us.” The artists enthusiastically agreed as long as students would join in. About ten students came to the stage, including one young man who got on the mic and invited everyone to “get on their feet” to join in. The room erupted in clapping and shouts as the student invoked the time honored tradition of call and response, a key aspect of go-go. “Hey ya, hey ya, hey ya,” echoed throughout the room as students responded to each chant. The visit ended with the group performing the hit song “Da Butt” with the entire room on their feet. Read more.
May 10: Sweet Cherie at Dorothy Height Elementary School
On May 10, Cherie “Sweet Cherie” Mitchell Agurs visited the second grade classroom of Kevin Johnson at Dorothy I. Height Elementary School (DCPS). Cherie began by talking about the history of go-go and finding out how much students knew about DC’s indigenous music. After that, she demonstrated a few classic go-go beats and asked students to join her. Students were then given instruments, with Cherie instructing each student on a specific beat to play. After practicing a bit, Cherie asked a volunteer to come up and sing. One student jumped up and began to sing “Hello” accompanied by her classmates and Cherie on piano. The class continued with a variety of students taking turns singing, dancing, and serving as the “talkers.” The class concluded by everyone singing the classic go-go tune “Sardines and Pork ‘n Beans.”
March 24: Ju Ju at E.L.Haynes Public Charter School (High School)
On March 24, William “Ju Ju” House visited students in Julian Hipkins III’s DC History classes at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. The DC History class was joined by students from Jennifer Fox-Thomas’ music classes. Ju Ju began by asking student to gather around a table at the front of the room to view images and documents related to go go from all over the world. Students were able to examine and discuss various pieces of go-go memorabilia that Ju Ju collected over three decades of playing DC indigenous music. Ju Ju then asked students to come up and play some go-go beats with instruments that he brought. Ju Ju instructed each three-person group on how to play a go-go beat. After the brief tutorial, they began and ended with a loud applause from their classmates. After the demonstration, Ju Ju explained the history of go-go and how he came to love the music. He took the opportunity to ask students their thoughts on how to keep go-go alive. Students had a variety of answers.
- A reunion concert with all of the great go-go groups.
- Larger social media presence in regards to the history of go-go as well as upcoming events.
- Photographer Maybelline McCoy suggested using the hashtag #reclaimgogo when posting information on social media.
When Hipkins mentioned that Ju Ju would be speaking at a whole school assembly at another school the following week, a powerful exchange occurred:
Student: Why didn’t you do that for us?
Hipkins: JuJu is here.
Student: I mean for the whole school
Haynes teacher: Why are you asking him? You have the power.
Student: Can I work with you to make it happen? Are you willing to work with us?
Hipkins: I am.
After the visit the student agreed to help bring a go-go event to the school as a gift from the senior class to cement their legacy at the school.
This classroom visit was funded by #NzingaNewYear donors. Photos by Maybelline McCoy.
October 21: Dr. Natalie Hopkinson at Kimball Elementary School
On October 21, renowned author Dr. Natalie Hopkinson visited the 3rd grade classroom of Carly Palella at Kimball Elementary School (DCPS). After a brief introduction by Palella, Hopkinson played pieces of music from all over world. From Salsa to reggae; students were asked to identify the different forms of music. With each new rhythm students raised their hand to identify the sound. When the final rhythm, go-go, was played, students shouted in unison to identify the music unique to their hometown. When the class was asked who created go-go, the students all responded “Chuck Brown!”
Hopkinson explained the journey that brought her to write Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Students listened intently as she explained how her classmates at the University of Maryland noticed her enthusiasm when talking about go-go and encouraged her to write about it. She also discussed the topic of research, describing how for her dissertation and book she conducted countless interviews and made first hand visits to go-go’s. Some of the students commented that they have also done field visits for their study of D.C. monuments. They were pleased to have their research method validated by a published author. Hopkinson continued by explaining why go-go is unique to “Chocolate City” and a brief history of how African-American culture influenced D.C. Here are pictures from the visit.
September 30: Sweet Cherie at Tyler Elementary School
Sweet Cherie played the piano and Robert Simmons, the Tyler Elementary School (DCPS) music teacher, played the Conga drum. Together, they created a musical relationship that improvised current songs while explaining the history and form of go-go music. Sweet Cherie came into the classroom with a wide smile, full of welcoming energy. She used this energy to lead call and response songs, improvise beats with Mr. Simmons, and guide them in using their own instruments. The two musicians worked easily together. As the conversation of the student’s musical knowledge flowed, Sweet Cherie and Mr. Simmons created a party-like atmosphere that called for everyone, including the teachers, to become involved in making the music.
As a testament to Sweet Cherie’s skills as not only a performer but also a teacher, she effectively engages students of all ages, as demonstrated by her unscheduled session with a pre-school class at the school. After Simmons engaged them in a movement song and dance, she asked for their favorite songs. With the help of Simmons, she created a go-go beat to the popular Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme song. By using a go-go beat with a song of their choice, she defined the genre in a way that was relatable and easily understood by preschoolers. Then she handed out instruments so that the children could join in on the performance. [Description from Teaching for Change volunteer, Zanso Dalili.) Here are pictures and video from the visit.
September 23: Sweet Cherie at Takoma EC
On September 23, Cherie “Sweet Cherie” Mitchell Agurs visited the 3rd grade classroom of Raphael Bonhomme at Takoma Education Campus (DCPS). Before she arrived, the class reviewed norms that should be followed when guest speakers visit. Bonhomme then passed out index cards for students to write down question they had about go-go. When Sweet Cherie entered the classroom, students smiled with excitement.
Cherie began by talking about the history of go-go and how she came to love music. After that, she led the students in some popular call and response chants that are staples of go-go music. Cherie went around the room, read the students’s names on their desk labels, and inserted each name into the chant “Go _______, it’s your birthday.” Students waited in anticipation as Cherie approached their seat. Students were then asked to either keep the beat by banging on their desks, or adding additional melodies using shakers. Cherie explained that each person added to the music with his or her sound. After the class joined in with a few songs, they asked a variety of questions about go-go. Here are pictures and video from the visit.
September 17: John Buchanan at School Without Walls
On September 17, John Buchanan visited two of Kerry Sylvia’s D.C. history classes at School Without Walls (DCPS). Buchanan began with a powerpoint presentation describing the formation of the music that would become go-go. He described the song Mister Magic by Grover Washington Jr. and how its melody was a major influence on early go-go rhythms. Buchanan asked students to snap their fingers and stomp their feet to the music in order to feel the rhythms that laid the foundation of go-go. As the class joined in, the floor vibrated to the beat.
Buchanan brought old photos of the bands he played with and his gold record for the hit single “Bustin Loose.” Students asked questions about go-go, Chuck Brown, and the future of the music today. While describing his years with the Soul Searchers and Rare Essence, Buchanan stated “A band that is very successful is like a Super Bowl team. They have to blend together to make a successful sound.” When asked why go-go became so popular, he stated “The go-go beat is a conduit that you can add anything to.” One of the students commented,
I have always been extremely proud to call D.C. my home, and have always heard go-go music but I never fully understood it. I never listened on my own and never felt a connection to it. After the visit from John Buchanan I feel as though I can say I do in fact have a connection to the music. And in doing so feel more like a Washingtonian. —Max Vichr
September 16: Sweet Cherie at Patterson Elementary School
On September 16, Cherie “Sweet Cherie” Mitchell Agurs visited the second and fourth grade classrooms of Chigoziem Odumade and Panella Rivera at Patterson Elementary School (DCPS). Sweet Cherie began by asking if they knew the person on her shirt. Many students shouted in unison, “Chuck Brown!”
When Cherie began playing go-go tunes, some students stood and began to dance near their chairs. After a few minutes, Cherie asked the students to come up to the front of the room to help lead the class in song as “talkers.” She explained that every group needs a talker to acknowledge the crowd and shout out instructions. Near the end of class, students surrounded Sweet Cherie at her keyboard and took turns practicing some famous go sounds. Here are pictures and video from the visit.
September 16: Ju Ju at Walker Jones Education Campus
On September 16, Ju Ju visited the Pre-K class of Shonte Tulloss and the 8th grade class of Travis Bouldin at Walker-Jones Education Campus (DCPS). Ju Ju engaged the early childhood students by tossing a ball and asking them questions about go-go. When he pulled out his drums, the students immediately wanted to play. Ju Ju gave instruments to students with specific instructions in order to create a go-go beat.
In the 8th grade class, Ju Ju separated students into teams that played different go-go beats. The three person groups played a selection that Ju Ju assigned. As each group played in front of the classroom, their classmates cheered them on and danced in their seats. The two teachers that invited Ju Ju had nothing but praise for his visit:
We wanted to thank Ju Ju for his patience and flexibility with our youngest learners. His work was authentic and his expertise undeniable. —Shonte Tulloss
Ju Ju is an amazing artist that truly brings go-go to life in a classroom! Many students were fully aware of the genre, but did not know as much about the history and the amount of skill required to create a go-go band. Through many different formats, including video, handouts, magazines and hands-on experience, students learned the basics of go-go along with techniques of popular artist. Overall, it was an enlightening day for everyone involved! —Travis Bouldin
Here are pictures and video from the visit.
September 15: Sugar Bear at Luke C. Moore High School
During his visit, Sugar Bear explained how he came to play go-go and his experiences at Ballou High School. He went into detail about the importance of practice and being prepared no matter where you are. When a student asked how E.U. was chosen to do “Da Butt,” Sugar Bear explained that film director Spike Lee happened to be in D.C. and saw E.U. performing. Lee approached him and said “I want you to be in my next movie.” The rest is history. Sugar Bear’s message to the students was “It’s good to be good wherever you are at.”
Following the overview, it was time to practice some call and response. Sugar Bear shouted out various calls and students responded in unison. He then began to play a few beats causing students to get up and dance. The classroom was transformed instantly into a go-go! Students crowded around Sugar Bear at the end of the visit to receive free CDs, autographs, and take pictures with a living legend.
Roger Jackson commented:
Students joined in as Sugar Bear played and sang, “Ohhhhh, Bop Bop!!” The energy in the room was overwhelming. Sugar Bear transformed the classroom into a musical place of movement. Tapping to the rhythm, moving to the beat, nodding to the syncopation, students displayed numerous talents at once. Sugar Bear did it. He reached the students.
After gaining their attention, he had conversations with them about how they can be successful by being who they are with a huge amount of greatness. He explained to them that they must work hard and be the “best them” that they could possibly be. Just being able to touch one life is always the goal, however, Sugar Bear touched many.
Here are pictures and video from the visit.
September 14: Charles Stephenson at the SEED School
On September 14, Charles Stephenson visited the DC History class of Bill Stevens at SEED public charter school. Stephenson began by giving students an overview of the history of go-go and its impact on DC, the United States, and the world. During his remarks he showed students go-go memorabilia that he collected over the years as a fan and while serving as the original manager of Experience Unlimited (E.U.). When students asked about the skills necessary to be a manager, Stephenson responded, “Being a manager is about managing personalities.”
In preparation for the visit, students read The Beat: Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C. which Stephenson co-authored with Kip Lornell. When asked about moving from New York to D.C., Stephenson explained some of the things he witnessed immediately when he arrived. “In New York at the time kids were playing basketball, when I moved to Washington, kids were carrying trumpet cases and guitar cases.” He encouraged students to take pride in the original music that was born in the city. “I don’t care what anybody says, D.C. is unique!”
Some of other questions dealt with the the reasons behind the popularity of go-go from its origins to the present and how it has changed over the years:
Student: Why do you think the Black community in particular enjoys go-go?
Stephenson: Because it is part of who we are. A lot of the rhythms in go-go emanate from West Africa.
Following a group picture, students approached Stephenson for his autograph and to talk about family members who played in various go-go bands. Students left feeling a sense of pride knowing that their city was the birthplace of a unique art form and the responsibility they have to make sure it continues in the next generation. SEED teacher Mr. Stevens noted,
The visit was awesome. It turned scholarly textual evidence into real life evidence. It was great to watch them feel not only validated about their academic endeavors but about their culture and their people and who they are.
Here are pictures from the visit.
September 10: Ju Ju at Eastern High School
On September 10, William “Ju Ju” House visited the Human Geography class of teacher Kim Stalnaker at Eastern High School (DCPS). Ju Ju started off by showing the class photos and books of go-go artists and other famous musicians. He then moved on to playing video of hip hop, followed by go-go, which got the students dancing in their seats. Ju Ju asked the students what differences they heard between the styles of music.
“Go-Go is different than a lot of other music. DC is one of the few spots where people play instruments,” said Ju Ju. He explained that there are two instruments that make go-go unique, the conga drums and the rototoms. “Everything comes from Africa as far as percussion,” Ju Ju said. “Brazilian music, everything. In other countries, they use one conga drum. In go-go, we decided to put four of them.”
Students asked Ju Ju about how he got started playing go-go, what playing was like when he was younger, why go-go developed in DC, how go-go has been marketed, whether bands formed at schools or in neighborhoods, and how he feels about the new go-go bands playing today. One student asked about whether the bands really know all the people they call out in the crowds. “We used to have ‘roll call.’ You used to have to sign your name in this book when you came to the go-go and whoever had the most signatures didn’t have to pay.” Ju Ju then asked the students what they think could help go-go stay strong in DC.
The class ended with Ju Ju and the students playing go-go beats, singing, and dancing in their seats. Here are pictures and video from the visit.
September 10: Teebone at Wilson High School
Timothy “Teebone” David talked about the history of go-go and his own experiences growing up in Washington, DC. He heard the music in everything around him from windshield wipers to the falling rain. He got a set of drums when he was very young. His mother told him that if he did not practice every day, she would take them away. So he threw himself into learning to play, starting with “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” He played the congas for the students, modeling the original latin beats and showing how they were adapted for go-go and now for the bounce beat. A high school student had the honor of joining him for back-up on the drums. Here are pictures and video from the visit.
August 25: Sugar Bear at Truesdell Elementary School
On Tuesday, August 25, Sugar Bear of EU visited 60 4th grade students at Truesdell ES (DCPS) at the invitation of Mr. Zia Hassan. When the students entered the room they immediately began asking “who is that?” After a brief introduction, students watched the video of the go-go hit “Da Butt.” The students soon realized the special guest in their classroom was on the screen.
Sugar Bear described go-go and his own life as a musician. Students asked lots of questions, such as:
Student: What do I have to do the be a musician?
Sugar Bear: You have to practice everyday. You have to practice if you want to improve at anything.
Student: Why did you want to be a musician?
Sugar Bear: It is what I love to do. Just like a football player, a doctor, or a teacher loves their job. Making music is what I love to do.
After a few questions, Sugar Bear engaged the students in a few well known go-go chants. The students responded enthusiastically, throwing their hands in the air, and joining in with their classmates.
At the end of his visit, Sugar Bear offered some go-go CD’s. Everyone wanted a copy. Sugar Bear quickly ran out and promised to send more. The 4th graders at Truesdell got a great introduction to go-go from one of the music’s legends.
Zia Hassan was very pleased with the experience. He commented,
June 16: Sweet Cherie at School Within School
Cherie “Sweet Cherie” Mitchell-Agurs visited the kindergarten classroom of elementary school teacher James Castaneda at School Within School. The students sat patiently on the floor as their teacher introduced Sweet Cherie. Cherie gave the students an overview of what go-go is by playing a few songs as examples. The students were immediately engaged. When their teacher asked if they wanted to play music with Cherie, they all yelled “Yes!” and began to line up for their instruments.
Once students were given their own instruments, the music began. Cherie separated the young musicians into groups based on which instrument they had. After they were given specific instructions, the students were ready to play.
After having students join in with go-go classics such as “Sardines,” Cherie asked students if they had any songs that they would like to sing. The room became full of melodies from Bruno Mars and Frozen, all with a go-go beat. When the class came to an end, the students asked their teacher if they could continue to play, calling out popular songs to perform. When Cherie asked what they would tell their parents they learned today, students called out that they would tell them that they learned about go-go. One student shouted, “Sardines and Pork and Beans.”
June 11: Sugar Bear at Roosevelt
Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott visited the classroom of music teacher Dr. Kenneth Dickerson at Roosevelt Senior High School (DCPS). The class began with Dickerson explaining the importance of go-go to Washington, DC and his experiences listening to go-go growing up in the city. Dickerson explained the connection of go-go to west African rhythms before introducing Sugar Bear to the class.
Sugar Bear began by explaining how he started playing go-go at Ballou High School. Dickerson then played a video for the song Da Butt. As students watched they commented at each close up of Sugar Bear. Once the video ended, Sugar Bear answered a few questions about the video and E.U. After that it was time to play.
Sugar Bear started by playing a few classic R&B songs that students were familiar with. He was accompanied by three students playing the trumpet, trombone, and saxophone with Dickerson on drums As the music shifted to go-go, Sugar Bear requested that students come up and dance or rap. One student came up to the front of the room and, after some prompting, began to dance. With each step the classroom began to move at their desks along with her. More students joined in once a students took over on drums and began playing bounce beat, a recent version of go-go. Here are pictures and video from the visit.
June 8: Sweet Cherie at Stuart Hobson
Cherie “Sweet Cherie” Mitchell-Agurs visited the classroom of music teacher James Edwards at Stuart Hobson Middle School (DCPS). The class was composed of students familiar with a variety of instrumental from the tuba to the violin. The class started with Cherie explaining the history of go-go and how she started playing. She explained that her stage name was given to her by the godfather of go-go, Chuck Brown.
Once Cherie took the podium, she asked the drummers to began playing a beat to begin. As they began, she explained that a drummer is the heartbeat and they must always play with emotion and confidence. The students responded with strong, deliberate sounds emerging from their drum sets.
Some students were not sure if they could play of go-go with their instruments, such as the clarinets and violin. Cherie quickly picked up on their hesitation and motioned what and how to play. Once the students realized they had a role in the music that was being made, they wanted to play non-stop. At one point, Cherie began to play popular songs and the students sang along. As the end of class approached, students asked their teacher if Cherie could stay all day. Here are pictures and video from the visit.
June 3: Ju Ju at E.L. Haynes
William “Ju Ju” House visited the classroom of music teacher Ashton Conklin at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. Ju Ju started off talking about the history of go-go and how he got involved with the music.
After a brief drumming demonstration, Ju Ju had students grab instruments and begin playing. He explained the difference between a “break beat” and “bounce beat.” While playing, Ju Ju instructed the students when to switch between the two in order to change the rhythm of the song.
Students were then separated into three person groups. Each group had to play a short selection in order to focus on the instrument they were assigned. Ju Ju went around to each student and gave them individual instruction on what and how to play.
Near the end of class, there was time for Q&A. A student asked Ju Ju how he became to be such an amazing drummer. He explained the importance of practice in order to improve on one’s craft. He said as a kid he was drumming constantly and on everything. The lessons he shared could be applied to music and life. Take a look at pictures and video from the visit.
Ashton Conklin was very pleased with the experience. He commented,
Ju Ju connected with our students in so many powerful ways during his visit. Most of all, it was his ability to connect with the students through the music that made the workshop an exhilarating and unforgettable experience for everyone in the room. His energy, talent, knowledge and ability to get them all engaged in playing go-go beats together for over an hour was simply amazing. Ju Ju spoke with the students about go-go styles and his own experience as a performer, but used most of the time allowing them to experience playing pocket and bounce beats together. I couldn’t imagine a better experience with a visiting artist in my classroom and my students have been talking about the workshop ever since.
Innovate Grant Announcement
On May 22, 2015, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the DC Commission on the Arts Innovate grant at Canal Park. Teaching for Change was one of the three grant recipients invited to showcase our project at the press conference. Our project is called Teach the Beat: Go Go Goes to School. Musicians Sweet Cherie, JuJu House, and Mighty Moe performed. They are among the team of performers who are coaching teachers and students in music and social studies classrooms thanks to the grant. Take a look at pictures and video from the event.