I knew that I would, the first time I saw James Brown I was just a kid ten or eleven. Flipping through the channels I see James Brown but it wasn’t his voice that first caught my attention it was his dancing. Jackie Wilson on speed he made Elvis look like he was standing still. I didn’t know men could do the splits until I saw him do it and then to come right back up just as fast and smooth as an elevator. Then he went into Please, Please, Please with the cape and being helped off the stage only to throw it off and come back and do it some more, I was bowled over.
The voice rough scratchy to silky smooth his voice like a jet fighter roamed the vocal stratosphere but always under perfect control. Staccato punctuations to his trade mark shrieks and screams, James stripped rhythm and blues down to rhythm and pure emotion and in the process not only became the God father of soul but the father of funk and the Moses of hip hop. When James Brown sang a song you knew how he felt about it and you had no doubts that he believed it, from his pleadings in Please, Please, Please to Poppa’s Got A Brand New Bag the emotion was always right out in front, He understood that there are thousands of singers and millions of catchy tunes but to attract an audience he had to give them more so he did, he gave more and he did more and it showed as he poured himself into every line.
Born into this world so poor he would have to save his money just to work his way up to just poor. Sent home from school for not having adequate clothing he worked every kind of menial activity to earn money including stealing. To learn music he volunteered to sweep out the church so he could practice the piano when no one was around. His mother left home when he was four his father working to try and support them through tough times burned self reliance into the young child. Ambition and self-reliance with out guidance led to prison; jailed at sixteen his jailhouse name was music box. Inside the walls of the prison He formed a gospel group and upon his release joins the group The Four Flames.
But with that much talent it soon becomes The Four Flames with James Brown then James Brown and the Four Flames and finally James Brown and his Four Flames. As his career takes off James controls every aspect of it, he starts his own publishing company his own record label and even his own radio stations. Growing up in segregated Augusta Georgia he described a street in town where blacks lived on one side and whites on the other side.
James was ambitious for his own success but from the very beginning he was interested in raising the black community as well. Founding a chain of restaurants with black management catering to black customers at a time when blacks weren’t made welcome in many restaurants. He gave away millions in scholarships and up until his death food drives and toy drives at Christmas. He once told a reporter “Civil rights are great but that doesn’t mean you respect me, but if I’ve got money you’ll respect me whether I’ve got civil rights or not. ”
His songs were positive messages Stay In School and Say It Loud (I’m black and I’m proud) was an anthem to black America although many whites felt threatened by it I was never bothered by it. What ethnic group doesn’t have their own anthem? These were polarized times he could have said get a brick or get a gun. But he wasn’t about that, he forgave his mother for leaving him and when Doctor King was murdered the Mayor of Boston suggested James cancel his concert that night. James countered instead that they should televise the concert live. While American cities burned crime reports from Boston were actually below normal.
Ebony magazine asked the question “Was James Brown the most influential black man in America?” He toured Vietnam he met with Nixon not that he thought Dick Nixon was a great guy but because he thought it was better to talk then not talk and how many conflicts could be averted with that mature attitude today? He toured Vietnam not because he supported the war but because he saw thousands of black troops and no black entertainment acts on the USO tours.
The eighties and nineties were tough times the scourge of disco the bubonic plague of the music business made life difficult for him. Imagine being that popular for that long and then to have your phone to stop ringing for six months or a year. Then coupled with the death of his son a divorce and tax problems James went back to prison. But he was a survivor and he again bounced back with hit songs and sold out tours with the ironic tune “Living in America” having seen the top and the bottom of America it is indeed an affirmation of his character.
His hit songs began to appear in hit films and a new generation began to discover him that is the mark of greatness to transcend your own generation. To have your music create it’s own genre and to spawn the next direction in soul music. He is an icon like Elvis or the Beatles and though he had some troubles and bad days it doesn’t diminish the brightness of his star, his burning talent his grasp of life on his own terms and his efforts to give back to it as much as he received. I feel good, I knew that I would, I got you