In 1971, a group of Charles Hart Middle School students in Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood gathered to form the Experience Unlimited Band. Fifty years later, EU remains a powerful cultural force with a repertoire that spans funk, rock, and go-go. They toured globally with their Billboard hit “Da Butt,” featured in Spike Lee’s 1988 film ‘School Daze,’ and more recently drew headlines for Glenn Close and Questlove’s shout-out during the 2021 Oscars, and their Don’t Mute DC-themed performance at the 2019 BET Music Awards. Last year, their music helped power Juneteenth protest parades to Black Lives Matter Plaza outside the Trump White House.
To mark this milestone, a coalition of musicians, scholars and cultural activists have launched a series including an oral history project, virtual reunion, and concert, to celebrate and document EU’s history. The Traditional Arts DC Project at Howard University is anchoring this effort, along with other partners and sponsors including the District of Columbia Office of Cable, Television, Music and Entertainment, the Go-Go Museum & Café, Don’t Mute DC, DC Office of Creative Affairs, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
“This is my life,” said Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliot, the founding and longest-serving member of EU. “I put a lot of time, grind, sweat and fun into this. Some of my brothers have gone on to glory with Jesus. It speaks volumes that all these musicians are celebrating with me. This is a story that’s never-ending. As long as I’m alive, there will always be an EU.”
Go-go scholar and author Charles C. Stephenson Jr. who began managing the musicians in 1971, said: “When think of EU, it is without, any boundaries. It’s also about family. I learned so much working with these young men and women. The bond that we have is inseparable. It’s forever.”
Dr. Natalie Hopkinson, Go-go scholar and Associate Professor at Howard University and director of the Traditional Arts DC, added:
“Generations have been partying with EU, but what is publicly known about their story barely scratches the surface. EU epitomizes excellence, longevity, and art with a community purpose. There is everything from their pre-go-go work recording with Black Fire Records, links to Capitol Hill, anchoring annual Malcolm X Day celebrations, to running a record store and practice space in Anacostia in the 1970s and collaborations with hip-hop. They are one of music’s great untold stories.”
Additional partners are welcomed as the project continues. The coalition is also asking the public to share their memories, photos at shows, photos of T-shirts, hats and other memorabilia as part of the effort. Please email TraditionalArtsDC@gmail.com to share your memories.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
JULY 10 – Virtual Experience Unlimited Reunion LUNCHEON –STREAMED LIVE @MakeGoGoForeverDC on Facebook from 1pm-3pm https://eu50threunion.eventbrite.com
JULY 25 – Birthday of Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliot – EU longest serving member
AUGUST 19th – Film Screening – “School Daze” at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
AUGUST 20th – EU Reunion Concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Date TBA – Release of Official EU@ 50 Yearbook.
EU @ 50 Committee
Charles C. Stephenson Jr.
Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott
Haywood Donerson III
Carl “CJ” Jones
William “JuJu” House