Justin Rood had a dream. He envisioned a parade that traveled through U Street in Northwest that celebrated D.C. music.
Seeking to make his dream a reality, Rood enlisted the help of Chris Naoum, the founder of Listen Local First, a nonprofit organization that supports collaborations between musicians and businesses.
“He pitched the idea to me,” Naoum said. He said the realized there hadn’t been a festival in the U Street community since the Georgia Avenue Day Parade and Festival and the Caribbean Day Festival were held several years ago.
Naoum said, “Every other neighborhood has events. U Street was Black Broadway, and there wasn’t an event that focused on the musicians and the music community.”
Aside from his nonprofit work, Chris is an attorney focusing on music policy. “My interest in working with musicians, I thought, was a perfect opportunity to create an event that focuses on D.C. music and that gives a home to D.C. musicians to perform in and around the neighborhood that is the historic home of music in the city.”
Despite several years of success, this year’s Funk Parade faced financial difficulty. A last-minute fundraising effort raised over $60,000 in just a few weeks, enough to ensure the parade plans could proceed.
Since its inception five years ago, the Funk Parade also included among its priorities efforts to ensure artists are paid fairly, that businesses on U Street are engaged, and that they are provide educational resources to the community.
Evan Bonham, a long-time supporter of the Funk Parade and an event volunteer, began working with D.C. Music Download last year. He also helped create a Virtual Reality Lab for last year’s festival.
For the upcoming festival Bonham is leading a partnership with Knowledge Commons to host a panel discussion featuring journalists and educators. It will be moderated by Dr. Dwandalyn Reece, curator of Music and Performing Arts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
“In previous years there have been panels and discussions but this year we are really trying to make it clear that there is a historical relevance to having a funk parade. We want to discuss funk music’s influence on the history of D.C.,” Bonham said.
“It’s bridged the culture from 1968 to now where we have go-go music. D.C. has been a breeding ground for jazz music, and funk music, and for so many artists today, Bonham said.”
This year’s theme is “The History of Funk” and coincidentally marks the 50th anniversary of the historic 1968 riots prompted by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The Chuck Levin Music store, which at the time was located on the northeast corridor of H Street, was tragically affected by the riots.
“Our store was burned to the ground in the riots and there was nothing left,” said Adam Levin. Since relocating to Silver Spring they have continued to be active in the D.C. music community.
Levin, a third-generation owner, said his interest in the Funk Parade was interested by their commitment to artists support.
“They were doing the event right from the beginning which i found inspiring.” said Levin. “They were putting a lot of their efforts into making sure the musicians got paid accordingly which is a really awesome thing that a lot of festivals would not do.”
The Chuck Levin Music store matched personal donations which in addition to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s pledge of an additional $25,000 organizers said was essential to make the event happen this year.
“This year when we heard they were going through hard times, to see that the event would disappear, it didn’t seem right. Said Levin “I see[the event] it at the embodiment of really authentic D.C. music culture and arts culture in D.C. brought to life.”