Teach the Beat!

Bringing the distinctive D.C. sound of go-go into the classroom.

Teaching for Change is honored to work with D.C.  area schools and the authors of The Beat! Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C. to develop lessons and share teaching ideas for infusing the history and music of go-go in middle and high school social studies, language arts, math, music, and/or D.C. history classes, and to bring renowned go-go performers into D.C. classrooms.

"Go-go has stayed true to time-honored cultural scripts such as live call-and-response, live instrumentation, as well as its locally rooted fashions, slang, dance, distribution and economic systems. Simply put: Go-Go never sold out. There is a grit and texture to the music that gives voice to the communities where it was created." –Natalie Hopkinson


May 16: Ju Ju at Seaton ES

Teach the Beat at Seaton ES

Claire Sontag’s second-grade class was joined by older students who participate in Seaton’s DC SCORES soccer program for a visit from go-go drummer Ju Ju House on May 16. Students arrived in the music room to find a child-sized drumset, Ju Ju’s roto toms, and a cowbell set out at the front of the room. Every student had the opportunity to play the instruments, with instruction from Ju Ju. Ju Ju demonstrated the difference between a go-go beat and a bounce beat, and explained that go-go was created in D.C. Finally, the children got up and danced to the beat of Ju Ju’s drumming. The following week, Ju Ju returned to Seaton for a cultural heritage celebration.

April 4: Ju Ju at Capital City PCS

Sixty high school seniors, students of Capital City Public Charter School U.S. government and D.C. history teacher Ben Williams, participated in a go-go workshop with the legendary go-go drummer, Ju Ju House on April 4. Mr. Williams prepared students for the visit with some of Teaching for Change’s lessons on go-go music. Students came to the workshop with questions for Ju Ju and one of the students provided Ju Ju’s formal introduction to the class. 

Ju Ju played music for the students and asked them to share what they know about go-go. He demonstrated the difference between a go-go beat and a bounce beat, and explained that the congo and the drums in go-go music never play the same beat. Students asked questions about how Ju Ju started playing, his father’s musical career, what continents he has visited, and the history of go-go. One student asked about the origins of the “beat your feet” dance move, and Ju Ju explained that it has its origins in church.

A lot of people don’t realize that there’s a connection between church and go-go, but that’s how people used to move when they felt the spirit on Sunday. A lot of the music, the dances–they got their start in church.

Some students demonstrated the chop and the beat your feet for the class.

The workshop was greatly appreciated, as noted by these two students,

It was very insightful to learn more about Ju Ju and D.C. culture regarding go-go. His visit completely changed my view on the scope of go-go music.—Evelin Guevara

I learned that go-go music has spread worldwide and that people from all over the world appreciate go-go music. I never knew that you could make a career out of go-go music and be so successful doing it. —Max Leathers

Mr. Williams reflected,

It was wonderful to have Ju Ju House at Capital City today. His visit reminded me that bringing experts into the classroom is a powerful experience for students that cannot be replicated otherwise.

This visit was made possible by a grant from the Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation.

September 27: Ju Ju at Garfield Elementary


Fourth and fifth graders in Mr. Brach Cobb’s music class participated in a go-go workshop with the legendary go-go drummer, Ju Ju House on September 27. Ju Ju introduced himself and shared some history of go-go music and then said to the children, “But today I want you to teach me about go-go music. This is your music. It comes from you and belongs to you, so I want you to teach me.”

Ju Ju proceeded to call students up in groups of four to improvise on various percussive instruments. He guided each one of them in discovering the rhythm for their instrument. Once each member of the Go-Go quartet knew their part, he asked another student to call “One, Two!” and the rest of the class would respond “Gimme that beat!” Each group of four would synthesize their parts and share their unique go-go rhythm. This became a “battle of the bands” and students were thoroughly inspired and engaged. During the final round, everyone danced and celebrated the creativity of one another. Everyone finished feeling like a winner.

September 27: Sweet Cherie at Raymond Education Campus


Go-go performer Sweet Cherie led a Teach the Beat workshop with approximately twenty-sixth graders in Mr. Dylan Nowak’s music class at Raymond Education Campus. She was introduced by a student who chronicled her long history as a go-go performer in DC. Sweet Cherie began the workshop by explaining the percussion beats in go-go and asking for examples of these instruments while Nowak passed them out to the students. Sweet Cherie and Mr. Nowak modeled rhythms for the different instruments and the students excitedly picked it right up.

Sweet Cherie explained the role of the “talker” as an integral part of go-go that includes the audience as part of the performance. Acting as the Talker while the students played, Sweet Cherie welcomed them all to class before demonstrating call and response. The students then helped her compile a list of go-go musicians. Sweet Cherie was wearing a Chuck Brown shirt, which all the students excitedly recognized as the Godfather of go-go. From there they talked about the different legends leading up to today’s generation of crank go-go bands.

The students and Mr. Nowak brought the beat back while Ms. Cherie performed “Sardines” with the students calling back. To close, students had the opportunity to ask Sweet Cherie questions. They asked what inspired her, how she became such an influential performer, as well as about her experience of playing with Chuck Brown for so many years. On their way out, the students wanted autographs and continued to call their thank yous.

May 27: Ju Ju at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan


Third-grade students in Mr. Strother’s music class at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (DCPS) got a special treat on May 27, when go-go legend Ju Ju came to give a lesson. Ju Ju asked the students about their favorite musicians, then coached the students as teams of four on the rototoms, conga, cowbell, and tambourine. Students competed to see who had the tightest band and quickly discovered that in order to succeed, they needed to listen to each other and work together as a team. Ju Ju had the students copy his beats in their seats and in front of the class. The visit was funded by Office of the Chief of Schools of DCPS.

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Website developed by Teaching for Change with support from
the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Image credits: Thomas Sayers Ellis