Singer and pianist, Billy Stewart, was born on March 24, 1937, in Washington, D.C. Known for his distinctive, soulful style, he started singing at an early age with his family’s Stewart Gospel singers. He sang with the Rainbows, a group that also included Don Covay and Marvin Gaye. Bo Diddley “discovered” Stewart and recruited him to play piano in his band. Chess Records released the “Fat Boy’s” solo debut, “Billy’s Blues,” in 1956.

OKeh Records released “Billy’s Heartaches” in 1957. That song, as well as “Baby, You are my Only Love,” was recorded with the local Marquees, which featured a very young Marvin Gaye. Stewart returned to Chess in the early 1960s, where he recorded his first hit, “Reap What You Sow,” which reached #18 on the R&B charts.

In 1965, his “I Do Love You” and “Sitting in the Park” hit both the R&B; and Pop charts. Stewart had a Top 10 hit in 1966 with his radical interpretation, incorporating scat vocals, of Gershwin and Heyward’s “Summertime,” recorded at Chess with session musicians Pete Cosey on guitar, Louis Satterfield on bass, Sonny Thompson on piano and Maurice White on drums. The recording was Stewart’s first crossover Top Ten hit on both the Pop and R&B charts. In January 1970, while on tour, Stewart and three of his band members were killed when his car plunged into a river in North Carolina.


Rare Essence started as the Young Dynamos in the early 1970s, but under the guidance of Chuck Brown, it became known as “Rare Essence” and quickly became one of Washington, D.C.’s top Go-Go bands in a very competitive live music scene. Go-Go, a rich combination of jazz and funk, with tribal beats, melodic grooves, call-and-response, and intricate percussions, is considered to be indigenous to Washington, D.C.

Quenten “Footz” Davidson, Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson, Michael “Funky Ned” Neal, and John Jones formed the band by learning Top Forty hits after school. As the group added more players, it formed its Go-Go sound and became known to its fans as “The Wickedest Band Alive.” Rare Essence gained widespread popularity due to its expressive and precise percussion and ability to play party music that never seemed to stop. Its “Work the Walls” landed on Billboard’s Top Ten in 1992.

For more than 25 years, Rare Essence has continually re-grouped, shifted directions, continuing to play concerts and make recordings. The single “Lock-it” was featured on the Strictly Business soundtrack. Today Rare Essence is Jas Funk, vocals; Mike Baker, bass guitar; Quinten ‘Shorty Dud’ Ivy, timbales and percussionist; Milton ‘Go-Go Mickey’ Freeman, congas and percussion; Mike Smith, drums; Little Benny, vocals; Charles ‘Shorty’ Garrison, vocals; Kimberly ‘Ms. Kim’ Graham, vocals; Byron ‘BJ’ Jackson, keyboards and vocals; Kent Wood, keyboards and vocals; Roy Battle, trombone; Andre ‘Whiteboy’ Johnson, lead guitar.


Content courtesy of Washington Area Music Association.