“Go-go” music legend Chuck Brown passed away Wednesday at age 75.
Quite frankly, I had never heard of him. But Brown was huge in the D.C. area, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
As go-go bloomed in the early â€™80s, New York City musicians were using drum machines and turntables to mint a futuristic new sound called hip-hop. Down in Washington, Brown was sneaking Duke Ellington melodies into his urgent young music. He may have been pioneering a new funk dialect, but he kept one foot in tradition, refusing to let go of the blues licks he learned during his stay at Lorton Correctional Complex.
As the â€™80s blurred into the â€™90s, rap music became a global phenomenon, but go-go stayed staunchly local â€” and Washington anointed Brown as â€œthe godfather.â€ Has American music ever produced a figure so singular? He was a man who could stop traffic in his city but could stroll down the sidewalks of the world unnoticed.
The Post responded to Brown’s passing with a wonderful illustrated tribute on the front of Thursday’s Style section.
Click that — or any page here today — for a larger look.
A little bird at the Post tipped me off that the page was due to careful and detailed advance work by Style art director Susana Sanchez. She took a few minutes Thursday afternoon to answer a few questions for us.
Q: How long ago did you start planning this tribute?
A: On Apr 24, Frances Sellers, the Style editor, sent Chris Meighan and me an e-mail about how Chuck Brown has cancelled all his May shows. She said he was very sick and that we should plan to do something big for if or when he passes away. We discussed what direction to go in.
Because Brown was such an icon to the city, the editors suggested to go big with a whole page illustration with one or two stories, since A1 would use a nice photo with the obit. The editors compared Chuck Brown to Michael Jackson status in the D.C. area.
I didn’t know who Chuck Brown was, so I did some research. I listened to his music and read some history. I talked to the music critic Chris Richards and his editor Joe Heim for more info. In Style, it’s our duty to present content and news differently in a smart and unique way.
That day, I knew just which illustrators to approach.
Q. Love the illo by Marc Burckhardt. Does he do a lot of work for the Post? What made you think of him for this assignment?
A. Marc was my top choice from the beginning. His work is amazing. He’s good at concepts and likenesses.Â I felt that having Marc on board would be perfect.
Illustrator Marc Burckhardt.
Of course, I went over the selection of illustrators first with [design director] Janet Michaud and [deputy design director] Chris Meighan. Then I showed the editors the same illustrators.
The editors preferred Jason Mecier‘s work because he works with stuff/junk/objects to create people, but since we were working on a fast turnaround, we didn’t know when Brown would pass. We needed the illustration as soon as possible. I was able to convince the editors on Marc.
It was assigned Thursday, April 25th. Sketches on April 26th and revisions were asked for. We finalized the sketch by Friday, April 27th when all the editors were on board. We got the final on Sunday the 29th.
I think this was the first time Marc worked for us. I had approached Marc before for a Kennedy Center Honors package but the timing wasn’t right.
I think Marc is awesome. And he was easy to work with. I sent Marc photos and websites to get to know Chuck Brown. I also gave him a description that the music critic gave me. He nailed the likeness.
Marc creates portraits for magazines like Time, Rolling Stone and Texas Monthly and CD covers for Decca, Sony and Dualtone Records. He’s also done work for Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A few samples of his work:
Q. Did you design the Style front? How about that nice picture page, C9?
A. I did not design that cover. HyunJu Chappell designed the front. She has worked here more than seven years.
However, Janet Michaud, Chris Meighan and I all weighed in on the design and direction. We collaborated on the placement, the specs, the key design and the overall presentation. It was a collaborative effort.
I had pre-designed the page on April 24 for the illustrator for specs and so that the editors can see if they wanted that large of a footprint. The editors OK’d the space after Marcus Brauchli, the executive editor, OK’d it.
Here are a couple of other nice entertainment-oriented fronts designed by HyunJu:
In each of those examples, the art was by New York-based illustrator Sean McCabe.
Vicky Fogg designed the inside. She’s worked here more than 20 years.
Here are the two inside Style pages. Click either, of course, for a much larger view:
The big picture on the right is a 2005 file shot by staffer Michael Williamson.
Q. For those of us — like myself — who are familiar with neither Chuck Brown nor “go-go” music… what is it, exactly? Was there a hit song or something I should be familiar with? Or was he a local phenomenon?
A. Here’s exactly what the music critic sent me:
Chuck Brown created go-go music by connecting songs with a beat (sort of like a DJ) so that audiences wouldn’t leave the dancefloor.
I’ll be writing about how this is a metaphor for how he connected people in Washington and created an enduring musical community here.
Chuck is a very warm, gregarious guy who loved his fans and would always stop for pictures and hugs when he was out on the street.
He loves to smile, so we’ve gotten to know his gold tooth. The wrap-around shades and flashy suit and hat were also visual hallmarks.
He has a hollow-body guitar called “Blondie” that’s part of his image, too.
In addition — as Susana mentioned earlier — the Post started a news story out front Thursday. In the centerpiece position, in fact. Here are Thursday’s front and jump pages.
Q. I know it’s still early, but have you gotten any kind of feedback yet on this?
A. EVERYONE has e-mailed me! Everyone is very impressed with how it came out and the planning from many different platforms.
We are getting lots calls about the page. It’s pretty amazing how team work and collaboration can make a package sing. And I have awesome editors who came up with the idea and let me roll with it.
The editors areÂ thinking about doing a reprinted cover upon request from readers.
I wrote about Susana last month when she put together a fabulous — and, in my opinion, definitive — take on the space shuttle Discovery‘s aerial circuit around Washington D.C. And she did it on deadline.
So, naturally, I asked her:
Q. You’ve been at the Post a little over four years, now. What’s the absolute COOLEST thing you’ve worked on?
A. The coolest thing?Â I don’t know! I have worked on so many pages and special sections it’s hard to chose. Even though it gets very stressful, I do love coming up with impactful illustrations or type-driven design on deadline.
Something that was really cool if I had to highlight something: The Instagram/Facebook merger story by Dan Zak.
I found out about the story at our daily meeting at 2:30. I brainstormed ideas and with the help of [features photo editor] Anne Farrar, I printed out the alphabet in our font, Postoni Display, and we shot every letter with our iPhones. I told the copy desk and editors that the display image for this essay would be the headline and Instagram photos and so the head needed to be smart and short.
I got the headline at 7:45 p.m. and deadline is 8:15. In a half hour I put together the letters to the headline submitted by Michael Cavna.
Cool, huh? The flower photos in that package are mine, too.
Though stressful, I love my job and I work with a great team.
The design concept was indeed cool and the headline was fabulously clever. Michael — Style‘s night editor — also wrote that terrific space shuttle headline.
A product of East Los Angeles College, Susana interned for the creative services department of the L.A. Times and the news graphics department of Newsday. She was a designer and artist for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune of West Covina, Calif., and then moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2002 as a features designer for the Sun-Sentinel, eventually rising to become features design director.
Like I said, Susana moved to the Post in 2008. In fact, she tells us:
I celebrated my four-year anniversary on St. Patrick’s Day this year.
A few samples of her work:
Find more in her NewsPageDesigner portfolio.
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