(Updated 08/27/2014) Hundreds of fans of legendary musician Chuck Brown braved the rain Aug. 22 to witness the unveiling of the Chuck Brown Memorial Park in Northeast, D.C. Designed by architect Michael Marshall, the park includes a circular plaza, interactive outdoor drums and chimes for children, lawn seating and benches for outdoor concerts, a 3-D mosaic sculpture of Brown, and both discographies and timelines of Brown’s career etched in ceramic tile.
On hand for the unveiling were D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Council members, including Marion Barry (D – Ward 8); members of Brown’s family; The Chuck Brown Band; and Marsh all, along with members of his firm Marshall Moya Design. “I feel personally privileged to have designed a memorial, since I grew up in Langdon Park. It brings me great satisfaction to know that the park my firm designed will continue to cultivate positive memories for others for years to come. It’s at this park that we can celebrate the spirit of this community, Chuck Brown, and Washington, D.C.,” Marshall said.
For Marshall, who grew up in the Langdon Park neighborhood just blocks from the memorial, being able to capture the spirit of Brown’s legacy in the design elements of the park were tantamount to preserving his legacy.
“I visited this park with my parents and grandparents as a child on Douglass Street and have a love for Go-Go music that stretched through the 1980s and even my days at Yale University. The music has always been cutting edge and has a global appeal,” Marshall said. “Still, the music is homegrown and I wanted to capture the essence of it and Brown by incorporating elements of percussion – the sound of the boys on the street beating on buckets – in the playground instruments and the design of the park itself.”
Marshall also said that the design was meant to mimic, in its arced position, the embrace of Brown’s arms and an invitation to be encircled by his music.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, on hand for the official ribbon cutting, said, “Chuck Brown combined diverse musical genres to help create a distinctive 20th-century American sound that endures in the District and nationwide. He will forever be remembered as a tireless and constant presence in the musical landscape of this city. This memorial park ensures that future generations of District residents and visitors will know about this remarkable man, his music and his connection to the District of Columbia.”
Rosetta Hunt, 58, of Baltimore, traveled to the ceremony in the hopes of introducing Brown’s work to her grandsons, Darius, 14 and D’Andre, 10. While the young men are familiar with Go-Go as a genre, she wanted to ensure they understood how and who laid its foundation.
“I was always proud of the fact that Chuck Brown used the sounds and feel of Africa in his music. Those percussions and that driving beat are distinctly ours, and over the years I’ve watched him mix it with jazz and rap, to make it all sound that much better. Chuck was a master and he deserves this park and all of the feel good partying this memorial will create,” Hunt said.
Hunt said she was most impressed with the memorial’s interactive, hands-on feel. “For people who are unfamiliar with Chuck’s legacy, all they have to do is walk the exhibition area to find out and they can see how his career spanned decades and many different kinds of music,” Hunt said.
The unveiling coincided with Brown’s birthday – he would have been 78, and his final music launch, a CD entitled Beautiful Life. A birthday bash at the historic Howard Theatre capped off Friday’s celebrations.
Brown, known as the Godfather of Go-Go, helped create both the sound of Go-Go music and its fusion into other genres including hip-hop, jazz, and blues. The Grammy-award winning musician died in May 2012 of multiple organ failure – his death brought about weeks of public mourning.
The Chuck Brown Memorial Park is located in the Langdon Park area of Northeast at 20thand Franklin Streets.