Obituary Chuck Brown (1936 – 2012)

Chuck Brown, one of the most popular artists in Washington D.C., died at John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore on May 16. Several generations have grown up with his music and a street in the city was renamed Chuck Brown Way. Chuck loved being photographed by his fans because ‘there once was a time when the only people who wanted to take my picture was the police.’

Brown’s musical career proper began in the sixties when he played guitar with Jerry Butler & The Earls of Rhythm. In 1965 Brown joined Los Latinos where he discovered the possibilities of the use of conga drums and the Latin beat. Brown was looking to invent a new style of music. He created his own sound by combining jazz, blues, gospel, soul and African rhythms. He wrote transitions between the music so that it was played non-stop and he added audience call and response, something he had picked up in church. Brown started a band, calling it the Soul Searchers, and the new style of music became known as ‘go-go’, because it never really stopped.

Chuck’s dream, though, was to record a duet album with a female, such as those of his heroes Louis Armstrong with Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Eckstine with Sarah Vaughan. In the summer of 1990, a week after first hearing Eva Cassidy’s tapes, Chuck and Eva met in Chris Biondo’s studio, where they recorded their album The Other Side. Chuck appreciated Eva’s down-to-earth nature and he also discovered her hidden sense of humour. They shared a love of music in all its forms, but the American Songbook in particular. Eva was thrilled that Chuck thought her interesting enough to work with.  Both musicians were perfectionists, but Chuck was not used to a fellow musician taking music so seriously. Go-go musicians just ‘did their thing’ onstage and placed a great deal of emphasis on entertainment, something that was unimportant to Eva. This young lady would take him to a higher musical level.

Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy

The Other Side

They both enjoyed working in the studio. Eva had never been comfortable with a live audience and Chuck had become tired of performing. People in the audience got the impression that Chuck and Eva were a couple. Their love duets sounded more than convincing. But they had actually developed a close friendship; Chuck lost his bravura in her company and she was less shy in his presence. When Eva performed for the last time, a few months before she died, Chuck left the stage as quietly as possible, unable to control his emotions.

In 1997 Chuck Brown recorded an album of jazz standards called Timeless, which he released in 1998 and dedicated to Eva. Chuck didn’t want to perform with another female singer again. He said about his former companion: ‘There will never be a new Eva’.

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Chuck Brown