Kenny Barnes Sr., one of the early proponents of the go-go movement in the 1970s, was a key figure during the nascent days of the Soul Searchers, the legendary Chuck Brown-fronted band that brought the genre’s funk and vibe to DMV neighborhoods.
Barnes and his partner Mel Edwards founded a popular weekend event, “Friday Night Go-Go,” in Palmer Park, Md., at a venue known as The Squad Room, which became the birthing ground of go-go music by way of Brown and the Soul Searchers.
“Now at that time, they were known as a cover band. Very good band,” Barnes said of the Soul Searchers. “But they could sing somebody’s record and make it sound better than the person who did the record. That’s what they were known for. There was no such thing as go-go music. Chuck Brown had brought some music that he had worked on for several years. He brought it to the Friday Night Go-Go at The Squad Room, and that’s where go-go got its voice.”
Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers played as the main feature of the Friday Night Go-Go, while accompanied by filler bands such as Shadow, Reflection, Black Heat and a few additional local acts, coordinated and promoted by Barnes.
“We had no idea that it would turn out to be what it is,” Barnes said of the event. “We never thought that. So to be on the front — it was the in place to be. Everybody from around town who was anybody came there.”
In February, go-go was formally adopted as the official music of D.C., largely due to the efforts of local advocates and Washingtonians who grew up listening to and taking part of the music’s culture that bears such heavy influence on life in the District.
“I feel proud that something I was involved with is the official music of the District,” Barnes said.
Despite the genre’s growing recognition and acceptance by the city government, Barnes raises a few points of contention regarding its origins.
“If you’re going to include that, you have to include the true history. Where it began, how it began, and its roots,” he said.
Barnes credits Chuck Brown with founding the District’s signature genre — contrary to the narrative of the late Brown merely popularizing the movement after its creation.
“When I think about Chuck Brown, what I admired about him [is that] he never wavered,” Barnes said. “When he created go-go music, it was more for kids. And when I say for kids, and adults too, it was all clean. As far as his music was concerned, his music was wholesome and pure.
“The reason why it will last forever is because of Chuck Brown,” he said. “Everybody knows that Chuck Brown created the music. Everybody knows that.”