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

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September 27: Ju Ju at Garfield Elementary

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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

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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

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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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Image credits: Thomas Sayers Ellis