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


Go-Go Gallery Walk

The teacher or facilitator places the text and images throughout the room evenly to avoid congestion in one area. They can be placed on walls on their own or attached to chart paper for participants to write on.

When the images are ready, participants are instructed to either write comments on a post-it note and place it next to the image/text, or write on a piece of chart paper under the image. A question can be posed at the beginning of the gallery walk to focus participants on a specific aspect of the content. For example, “As you are walking around, think about where you see the impact of go-go in DC.” Participants are asked to walk around the space as though they were at an art gallery. There is no talking during the gallery walk. This gives participants a chance to reflect silently. Give participants 10-15 minutes to write down their thoughts. Allow more time if necessary.

Click here to download materials.

Print Friendly and PDF

Meet the Beat


This is an introductory lesson to acquaint students with key people and issues in a unit of study on go-go in the DC metro area. It serves as a pre-reading activity for books and articles on go-go. 

Following the lessons, it is our hope that students will want to learn more and generate their own list of questions for further study. The lesson format is a “mixer” or “meet and greet” where students take on the role of a key person, place, institution, or object. In their role, they try to find answers to a designated list of questions by interviewing their peers, who are also in role. They begin with informational questions and then regroup for questions that require critical thinking and analysis, such as:

  •  What role does go-go play in understanding gentrification? 
  • Why did go-go emerge in DC and why is DC one of the few cities in the U.S. to have its own music form?

Public historian Marya McQuirter wrote the bios. She provided this description of the multiples goals she had for them: 

"First, I wanted to use the bios as a way to tell smaller stories about go-go that would add up to a big story (or bigger stories) or history about go-go. Second, I wanted to show that the history of go-go is not simple, it is complex and that it involves musicians, singers, educators, politicians, history, money, property owners, a desire to dance, etc. Third, I wanted to place go-go within a history of music. I wanted to give weight to the idea that go-go is a true musical form. And to emphasize its musicality, its use of a wide range of instruments (particularly in the first decades) and that go-go musicians also played, enjoyed, influenced and were influenced by other music genres. Finally, I hoped to provide a context for teachers and students to appreciate how go-go is such a beloved music and culture in the city and to create a space to think critically about its past, present and future."

For classes where some or all the students are not familiar with the go-go beat, we recommend beginning by introducing students to some audio clips. For all classes, we recommend playing go-go music during the mixer activity. Go-go cannot be understood on paper alone.

Materials and Preparation

  1. Music clips: Have clips of these two songs cued up and ready to play: “Bustin' Loose, “Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers & “Welcome to DC,” Mambo Sauce
  2. Name tags
  3. Handout #1: Brief Bios.” There are 38 biographies in this handout. Print the handout and cut the paper into individual strips, with each strip displaying one biography. Each student or workshop participant and the instructor should receive one bio each. If there are more bios than participants, you can either give two bios to a few participants or reduce the number of bios distributed. If you reduce the number of bios, reduce them in multiples of six and delete the respective names from Handout No. 2.
  4. Handout #2: Questionnaires: What’s My Name? What’s My Story? There are six (2A-2F) versions of this questionnaire to ensure students receive different questions. Print all six versions and make enough copies to cover the total number of students who will participate in the activity. Each student will receive one of the six versions of the handout. 



  1. Do a quick check-in with questions such as: 
    • Who's heard of go-go? (If quite a few have, ask what bands/songs they can name or that they like.)
    • Who's seen a live go-go performance? 
    • Whose parents/grandparents listen(ed) to go-go?
  2. Explain that go-go has a multi-generational history in DC, so there are more people and places than the ones they named and luckily today you will get a chance to “meet” them. 
  3. If one or more students have not heard go-go, play two music clips: “Bustin' Loose” by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers and “Welcome to DC” by Mambo Sauce. Ask students: What do you hear? What are the similarities? What are the differences?

Meet and Greet

  1. Distribute one bio, questionnaire, and name tag to each student. Explain that for the rest of the class, they will take on the identity of the person, place, or thing on the bio they received. Point out that these biographies are simply brief introductions; the full stories could fill entire books.
  2. Ask them to take a few minutes to read their bio. Then have them respond to the first two questions on the top section of the questionnaire, and to let you know if they have any questions. The two questions are:
    • What is your name?
    • What is one thing of significance about your own identity?
  3. Have them put their role play name on their name tag and put it on.
  4. Explain to students that they have the rare opportunity to attend a conference on go-go. In order to make the most of their time at this conference, they have a brief questionnaire to complete. This questionnaire will help them meet and learn about others at the conference. As they participate in the conference, they should stay in role, responding to questions from other participants, and in turn ask them questions. Each student should try to “meet” the people or places on their questionnaire that can help them answer their questions. Their conversations with each other should reveal the necessary clues for the student to figure out the names and fill in the blanks.
  5. Launch the activity. At the beginning, you may need to remind students to stay in role. (If you have not done a mixer like this with your students before, you could model some interactions so they get the idea that they should meet and talk with people to try to find the answers to their questions.)
  6. Once you have determined that most students have had enough time to complete their questionnaire, have everyone return to their seats.
  7. Ask for a couple of volunteers to share what they found to be most surprising and/or interesting during the activity. 

Deepening Our Understanding of Go-Go

  1. Explain that now the conference participants have been asked by the media to respond to some challenging questions. You can group participants so that they have the background needed to grapple with both questions. Group them according to what works best in your class. There is not a definitive answer to either question, so the challenge is to develop an informed response based on the knowledge and experience of the roles represented in each group.
    • What role does go-go play in understanding gentrification? (Bios 2, 7, 13, 35, 37)
    • Why did go-go emerge in DC and why is DC one of the few cities in the U.S. to have its own music form? (Bios 2, 5, 6, 8, 15, 19. 21, 33, 37, 38)
  2. This is the conclusion of the activity. There are many possible next steps. For example, students can
    • Conduct research on the person, place, or thing they represented in the activity. They can share what they learned in the form of an essay, bulletin board display, a children's book, Wikipedia entry, radio theater, or iMovie.
    • Draft a description of go-go for the DC history textbook. If they were given one page in the book, what should it say?
    • Teach others in their school or community about the history and culture of go-go.

Bios and questions developed by Marya McQuirter. Lesson developed by Deborah Menkart based on a “meet and greet” format used in many pre-reading lessons.

Click here to download handouts.

Print Friendly and PDF

Evolution of the Go-Go Beat in Washington, D.C.

On July 9, 2011, the D.C. community convened for a beat, the Go-Go beat. The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum hosted Evolution of the Go-Go Beat in Washington, D.C., the second program in a series devoted to Washington, D.C.’s homegrown genre of music. Go-Go music, the history of which has been carefully chronicled in The Beat! Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C., has West African roots and is recognized for its infectious heartbeat-based rhythm courtesy of  its signature instruments, the congo, cowbell, and drum.

Kip Lornell and Charles Stephenson, Jr., co-authors of The Beat!, invited the D.C. community-at-large to listen to talks from Go-Go artists.

Sweet Cherie, Howard University Graduate and keyboard player of the all-female Go-Go band Be’la Dona, spoke highly of the Go-Go community describing it as “family.” Having just returned on a red-eye flight from a performance with the Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, in North Carolina, she warmly presented several audio recordings evidencing Go-Go’s past and continued employ in other musical genres like R&B, Pop, and Gospel. The audience’s response ranged from toe-tapping to nostalgic grins as Sweet Cherie played excerpts of Grace Jones’ Slave to the Rhythm, Jill Scott’s It’s Love, Beyonce’s Crazy in Love, Kirk Franklin’s Before I Die, Karen Clark Sheard’s Prayed Up, Cee Lo’s I’ll Be Around, Kelly Rowland’s Bump Like This…the list goes on like the beat.

Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliot, lead talker and bass player of Experience Unlimited (E.U.), whose ’80s hit, “Da Butt” featured in Spike Lee’s School Daze and gave Go-Go music one of its first national platforms, detailed the group’s quick rise from playing in small local Go-Go venues to performing in 20,000-person capacity stadiums. He also expressed disappointment with the school system’s removal of music programs from public education claiming “there may be many Miles Davises among us, but we’d never know it” for the lack of access to standard musical training.

Similar to the sun’s unrelenting blaze on this hot D.C. afternoon, Faycez U Know gave a smoking live performance on the grassy area of the Anacostia Community Museum’s grounds as approximately 20 teachers stayed indoors to attend to the business of developing a Go-Go curriculum. The goal of the meeting, led by Teaching for Change, was to build a collaborative community of educators who will develop, field test, and promote lessons centered on Go-Go.

Teachers separated into groups of three to brainstorm interactive and effective ways to address the five core areas of knowledge based on Go-Go music and using The Beat! Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C. as a primary textual source. As the teachers regrouped, they shared many well-constructed ideas inspired by the homegrown sound. Three teachers (Michele Bollinger from Wilson Senior High School, Monét Cooper from Capital City Public Charter School, and Michael Bolds from Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy) talked about engaging students in a long-term multi-media project in which the students would create documentaries to include original photos, interviews, and primary documents. Felecia Wright from Anacostia High School thought students could use research and critical thinking skills to explore the relationship between Hip-Hop and Go-Go including why one has gained more national attention and the relationship between the musical/cultural forms.

Reginald Dwayne Betts, a creative writing teacher, will entitle his lesson Rhetoric: The Art of an Illusion, exploring incidents of violence and Go-Go’s perceived association with them. Payne Elementary School teacher Mary Johnson is planning a lesson, The Language of Go-Go: Poetry and Figurative Language, Regional Language, Biography, and City Culture. Other ideas that surfaced included developing a business plan to promote a band as well as creating the social media and publicity for the band. Students would also learn some aspects of marketing by creating web pages, flyers and other promotional materials.

Teaching for Change Associate Director, Allyson Criner, ended the gathering by asking teachers to name a student they will have in mind as they develop their ideas into actual lessons plans.

The lessons will be field-tested. Teachers can still get involved by emailing teachthebeat@teachingforchange.org


Lesson from a Go-Go Beat: How it all comes together?

Time Period

  • Two to four 50 minute periods to read, collect information and organize it
  • One to three 50 minute periods to draft a statement and present it.

Essential Questions

  • Is anything ever completely independent of the influence of others?
  • In what ways do we connect with each other?


  • Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
  • Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.


Students will be able to identify elements from other musical and cultural traditions that have been incorporated into go-go. (Identify elements that influence the creation of something new)

Students will be able to make an argument for which elements adapted by go-go were the most influential and necessary in the development of go-go music.

Final Product

One page outline for argument that defends student statement around the most important musical influences on gogo this argument should include: a clear position, a statement describing go-go, quotes from the text, references to video or audio clips

Students should be prepared to present their statements in whole class or small group presentation, or formal class discussion.

Prior Learning

Before embarking on this lesson students should already know how to identify valid supporting evidence, know the structures used in class for formal discussion, and how to craft a clear a clear position statement.

Lesson Plan - Hook

Option 1

Have students create comparison charts in which they compare themselves to parents and/or grandparents identifying features both physical and behavioral that they have inherited and then identify those elements that are strictly their own. 

Option 2

Show images of a modern instrument and its predecessors allowing students to identify the elements that were kept and those that are unique to the modern instrument.

(This comparison will allow the teacher to facilitate a conversation, where students are able to notice how particular elements taken from one place can influence the development of something new.)

Mini Lesson

Vocabulary Pre-Load

counterpart, syncopation, antiphony, lineage, vernacular, disenfranchised, predecessor, secular, traits

Teachers will provide students with student friendly definitions of the terms above and then have them provide examples and non-examples of each.  As they read students will locate and record sentences in the text where the words are used.

Read Aloud and Modeling

Teacher will provide students with a chart/timeline/or map, that allows them to record the different types of musical traditions influential to the development of go-go, mentioned in the text.  Teacher will read the first two paragraphs of “The Roots and Emergence of Go-Go” Pg. 11-12 and model his/her thinking:

She/he will identify the musical tradition, then list the elements of that tradition that can be found in go-go music.  The teacher should chart this example so that students may use it as a reference.

Guided Practice

The teacher will ask students to read pages 12-15 and identify either a new musical tradition that influenced Go-Go or a particular element within the already identified musical tradition to add to the list already charted.

Independent Practice

After a set period of time students will be broken up into groups and assigned a section or sections of the chapter and tasked with looking for musical traditions and the elements in these that were influential in the development of Go-Go, they may also identify similarities in the development of other musical styles.

After students have read their sections they should chart and post their findings and present to the class.  Students listening to the presentation should have a format for collecting the information presented by their classmates.

Teacher will then show students clips of the different types of music mentioned in the chapter and students will add to their lists based on the visual and/or audio clips presented.

Video Clips and Audio Clips of Live performances from each of these genres: West African Ju-Ju http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC0Tw4PmarA, R&B, Afro-Cuban/Latino, DC High School Marching Bands, Funk, Hip Hop, Latin, Go-Go

Once students have collected all of their information they will be asked to choose one of the musical traditions that they believe was the most influential in the development of go-go and prepare for discussion by identifying textual evidence as well as evidence from the video and audio selection that will support their claim.

Students will organize this information into an outline and use this outline as a guide for a class discussion (format to be determined by teacher). 

This outline and notes from the discussion may then be used to develop on page papers that show students ability to state a claim and support that claim with evidence.

Print Friendly and PDF

Copyright  2013 The Beat. All Rights Reserved.

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

Image credits: Thomas Sayers Ellis