The Atlantic | The Washington Post
When Abdul Ali initially wrote about Washington, D.C., music legend Chuck Brown’s wake, he portrayed it as a flashpoint between old and new D.C. Here’s how his piece began originally:
A little more than a month ago, thousands descended on Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theater to say goodbye to a legend. Chuck Brown, the guitarist who became synonymous with D.C.’s go-go music scene, had died at age 75. But while the assembled waited for the wake to begin, a man in a police jersey showed up and told the crowd to disband. The event quickly became political—a turf battle between the establishment and the fading, working-class, black population that calls go-go music its own.
The crowd didn’t budge. Instead, it got more vocal and agitated. “Wind me up, Chuck,” the masses roared (a common refrain shouted at Mr. Brown’s concerts). The clash may have looked to an onlooker like a rowdy showdown between go-go fans and the police, but it was also a lament from a community who over the past decade has witnessed repeated, flagrant reminders that their music isn’t welcome in the new vision of D.C.
There are a couple problems with this account, made clearer by the corrected version The Atlantic posted after Poynter inquired. Chief among them: The police asked the crowd to gather elsewhere because of a severe weather warning. Writing in Washington City Paper at the time, Sarah Godfrey described the scene:
Around 8 p.m., police began asking the large crowd gathered outside of the venue to disperse because of an impending storm. Vendors packed up their bootleg Chuck Brown t-shirts and fled, as did some of the people dancing and eating and catching up with old friends in front of the Howard. But the people in line to view the body of the Godfather of Go-Go refused to budge.
“No way will people leave,” said a Shaw resident who goes by Tweety Bird, when the police began asking people to head home. “This is a good tribute to a positive, humble man. It’s well-deserved. What’s some rain gonna do?”
Eventually, cops insisted, but some fans stayed put even when viewing was shut down. (Those who waited through the storm were allowed inside once the worst of the storm passed).
Reached by phone, Godfrey said the request to move the crowd “did take an ugly turn.” But given the D.C. Police Department’s fractious relations with go-go fans in the past, she said, the incident was “one of the rare instances of them being extremely respectful.”
D.C. police spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump says Ali’s original article is “an inaccurate portrayal of what happened and seems opinionated.” She continues, in an email:
From the Metropolitan Police Department’s perspective, our goal was to ensure that everyone attending this event could do safely. A thunderstorm was impacting the area, on May 29. We worked closely with the family and coordinated with the venue which temporarily closed as a safety precaution. When the storm subsided, the remaining mourners were allowed to pay their respects that night. Additionally, mourners had the opportunity to attend Chuck Brown’s funeral on May 31 at the Washington Convention Center.
Writing in the Washington Post, Chris Richards took exception to Ali’s account, too:
It’s unclear whether Ali is referring to the impromptu gathering outside of the Howard on the evening of May 16 or the official wake on May 29, but both events were reported to be largely, if not entirely, peaceful.
In the corrected version of the Atlantic story, Ali, who did not reply to my request for comment, appears to have gotten his account secondhand. Here’s the new lead:
A little more than a month ago, thousands descended on Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theater to say goodbye to a legend. Chuck Brown, the guitarist who became synonymous with D.C.’s go-go music scene, had died at age 75. But while the assembled waited in the rain to be let inside to view Brown’s body, an official-looking man—one person there said he was wearing a police jersey, while a Howard spokesperson said the man was a fire marshal—showed up and told the crowd to disband because of lightning.*
The crowd didn’t budge, recalled author Natalie Hopkinson, who was there with her two children. Instead, it got more vocal and agitated. “Wind me up, Chuck,” the masses roared (a common refrain shouted at Brown’s concerts.) Emotions were running high between go-go fans and authorities. After all, go-go’s Godfather had been laid to rest—following a decade of flagrant reminders that go-go music (or a big part of the population that listens to it, at least) isn’t welcome in the new vision of D.C.
Hopkinson already imbued Brown’s funeral with extra meaning outside Ali’s story, writing in a New York Times opinion piece called “Farewell to Chocolate City,” that “the music that Mr. Brown created was once ubiquitous here, but most newcomers today have never heard it.” Washington City Paper’s Steve Kiviat took exception to some of Hopkinson’s conclusions in reply to an earlier piece in The Washington Post linking go-go’s decline to gentrification.
Correction: This piece originally stated Kiviat’s
piece was replying to Hopkinson’s New York Times article.