Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City




My new book is “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City,” a look at Washington, D.C.’s unique musical culture published in 2012 on Duke University Press. This project began as a series of articles I wrote as a Style reporter for the Washington Post. It evolved into a PhD dissertation at the University of Maryland-College Park, and is now a book of photos and essays published by Duke University Press.


Go-go is a very local musical form of black popular music, but through the frame of my own Caribbean identity, I explore the music’s uncanny links to the black experience around the world. It is remarkable how American political and economic systems,  as well as the local geography and urban history are all mapped on to the music. I look at the local fashion lines, the dance movements the ever-shifting constellation of record stores and venues, the fading spaces in Washington D.C. as Chocolate City fades to black and the new life the music is finding in the far-flung suburbs. Go-go music is the perfect metaphor for the life and death of Chocolate Cities all over the United States.


This is one project I was seriously sad had to end. Check out the book’s video trailer:


GO-GO LIVE: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City from Natalie Hopkinson on Vimeo.


And here I am talking about my goals for the project:

Author Natalie Hopkinson on “Go-Go Live” from Natalie Hopkinson on Vimeo.

Here is some advance praise:

DAVID SIMON, creator HBO’s “The Wire,” and “Treme”:

Natalie Hopkinson’s Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City” demonstrates the essential connections between culture and community in an American city.  For generations now, go-go music in Washington D.C. has not only given the authentic, non-federal parts of that city its musical milestones, but it has — in the voice of so many great lead talkers — marked the civic and political time.  From Chuck Brown forward, go-go has proven resilient and real.  They say you can’t understand this music unless you are there in the club, in the moment, but this book comes close.”

HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University:

“Taking us into the little-studied terrain of go-go, the cousin of hip-hop born and bred in Washington, D.C.¸ Natalie Hopkinson reveals go-go as a lens for seeing, in stark colors, how the economy, politics, and especially the drug trade have traduced black communities around the world.”

RICHARD FLORIDA, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto:

“Go-Go Live is a terrific and important piece of work. Music, race, and the city are three key pivot points of our society, and Natalie Hopkinson pulls them together in a unique and powerful way. I have long adored Washington, D.C.’s go-go music. This book helped me understand the history of the city and the ways that it reflects the whole experience of race and culture in our society. It puts music front and center in the analysis of our urban experience, something which has been too long in coming.”

MARK ANTHONY NEAL, Duke University Professor, author of New Black Man

Black Washington, D.C., has a famously rich history and culture. Natalie Hopkinson has an established reputation as one of the most sophisticated commentators on contemporary black culture in the capital city. Go-Go Live is not only a fascinating account of a musical culture, but also a social and cultural history of black Washington in the post–civil rights era.

GEORGE PELECANOS, novelist, screenwriter, “The Wire,” “Treme”

Natalie Hopkinson knows the music, the heartbeat, and the people of Washington well, but Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City is much more than a book about D.C.’s indigenous sound. It is a vital, lively, and ultimately inspiring look at the evolution of an American city.”


SPIN Magazine Best 10 Music Books of 2012

Washington Post Critics’ Best Books on Washington, D.C. (January 10, 2013)

The Root, 15 Best Books of 2012.


THE WASHINGTON POST       “Go-Go Live” is thus not just a work of scholarship but an eloquent piece of cultural partisanship, an elegy, a counter-narrative, a love letter. Like Wald’s dozens, go-go comes from the margins — societal, economic, cultural — but in American music, the margins are usually the real center of the action.”

AMSTERDAM NEWS     “Go-Go Live” isn’t just the history of a genre of Black music; it’s the history of Black people in a certain region of America. It’s the history of Black America itself.”

HISTORY NEWS NETWORK      “tackles the subject with a ferocity fitting a musical form that fuses West African call-and-response, hip-hop, Latin congas, reggae and funk into infectious dance hall music.”

BALTIMORE CITY PAPER  “a plaint of ambivalent hopefulness that this post-Chocolate City, Barack Obama-era Washington, D.C., can begin to overcome that separate-and-unequal racial division still at the heart of America.”

LIBRARY JOURNAL   “writes with great, sometimes astonishing, insight, and this is a work that is sorely needed.”

DOMINION OF NEW YORK   “The book is complex and innovative in its attempts to straddle academic and popular audiences.”

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION   “Go-go is simultaneously the “black CNN,” informative and historically aware, and a place to “Beat Ya Feet” in raucous and hard-partying fashion.”

PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY       “makes a persuasive case that “go-go serves as a metaphor for the black urban experience in the second half of the twentieth century.” 

CULTURE MOB recognizes the complexities of a changing city and its evolving culture.”

WASHINGTON CITY PAPER “gives voice to recent history, providing context, depth, and nuance to stories that previously may have only entered our consciousness as newspaper briefs spread out over months or years.”

SOUTHERN SPACES “  “Hopkinson uses autobiographical narrative to leaven her historical treatment of black D.C., and includes several extended oral histories that add flavor to Go-Go Live.”

POPULAR MUSIC AND SOCIETY : “Hopkinson is at her best when she is connecting go-go to the city’s shifting historical geographies of race and class.”




My July 2012 conversation with Kojo Nnamdi about the book:

My May 2012 conversation with New York’s NPR affiliate  WNYC radio May 2012

Q&A with International Association for the Study of Popular Music


June 16, Maple Street Books, New Orleans

June 20, Cafe Istanbul, New Orleans National Association of Black Journalists Convention Sponsors; The Root/The Washington Post

July 16–BusBoys & Poets 14th and V Street 6:30-8 p.m.

July 30 Politics & Prose 7 p.m.

August 22– Bison on the Vineyard, Martha’s Vineyard

September 17, Martin Luther King Library, Washington, D.C.

September 21, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Author Panel. 4:30-6 p.m. with MC Lyte and Ledisi. “The Power of Music from a Historical, Cultural & Spiritual Perspective” Exhibit Hall-E. Booth 521

September 21 Reading to benefit Word Beats & Life, Inc. Montserrat House, 2016 9th Street, NW. 5-10 p.m.

September 28, Harvard Books, Sponsored by Dubois Center

October 13, Prince George’s Public Library

October 16, Howard University Bookstore