The music of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who blazed a trail in American music by blending gospel, pop and soul, is now on exhibit at the Grammy Museum through January 22.
It celebrates Brown’s role as a trendsetter in both dance and fashion, as well as illustrates how he used his music and celebrity to positively impact the civil rights movement and race relations of the 1960s.
Opening ceremonies kicked off on Saturday with Councilwoman Jan Perry’s presentation of a proclamation of “James Brown Day” to the seemingly reconciled members of his family, including oldest daughter Venisha (who’s a dead ringer for her dad, both facially and dance-wise); daughters Deanna and Iyanna; ex-wife Tomi Ray Hynie and Brown’s youngest son, James Brown, Jr.; one of his earlier backup dancers, Lola Love, who taught a young Deanna how to dance for Brown’s appearance on “Soul Train”; “Bo” of the Soul Generals; and two of the backup dancers with him at the time of his death.
Perry shared her own recollections of Brown with the packed audience at the Clive Davis Theater, calling Brown a “style icon,” and noting that he used his “indomitable spirit and celebrity to positively impact race relations during the civil rights movement.”
Her favorite JB ploy back in the day was the cape routine. That brought howls of memories from the crowd.
Bringing together dozens of diverse artifacts and rare photographs, the exhibit features items from the private collection of Brown’s large family: There’s a cape worn by (and probably removed from) Brown, a pair of his cowboy boots, handwritten lyrics, a few of his 45’s complete with spindles, concert posters and rare footage and photos.
There’s even a demonstration video of how to properly to the camel walk, the boogaloo, the funky chicken and the robot, though not demonstrated by Brown. They’re a hilarious throwback to a time when Brown is also credited for assuaging racial tensions, as seen in footage from “The Night James Brown Saved Boston.” He did. Literally.
He also won his first Grammy for “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
Interviews with Bootsy Collins, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, director Steve Binder of the T.A.M.I. show (aka the 1964 “Teen Age Music International” concert, which featured Brown’s legendary high- energy dance moves), MCLyte and Public Enemy’s Chuck D are more than insightful. As these artists personally know, and Grammy Museum director Bob Santelli points out, “It’s widely known that the Godfather is the world’s most sampled artists of all time.”
And one of the world’s most influential — if the young people who performed at exhibit’s opening are any indication. Part of the Grammy Museum’s education outreach efforts, the kids hailed from Long Beach and its environs. The young entertainers included T.H.E.M. (The Highest Evolution of Music) – Nashan Cherry (trumpet), Teon Fisher (bass), TJ Fisher, Jr. (keys/drums), Donovan Longley (drums), La’rissa Longley (vocals), Dominic Matthews (guitar) and Omar Morales (guitar).
Between T.H.E.M. and singers Schy and Diwaine Smith, everybody — family and friends alike — had a funky good time when the young folks jammed on “I Feel Good” and “Sex Machine ” and “Gonna Take You Higher.”
As Deanna Brown said, “The only thing missing was the splits.” But trust this: There was more than enough entertainment value without the splits. Neither the family nor the audience rarely sat down once the young performers started playing.
For exhibit planners Ali Stuebner and Tory Millimaki, putting together the Brown exhibit was “exciting because it was completely different from anything else.” Having previously worked on John Lennon and Roy Orbison exhibit, they found the family to be very open, providing great stories about the legendary Mr. Brown.
Stay tuned for some of those great stories in next week’s paper. They’re interviews with those who knew him the best: his children.