Thursday, November 23, 2017
James Brown, The Legacy
Published December 27, 2006

His spinning moves on stage, his signature splits and his trademark evangelical attire that frequently featured a cape melted into his impromptus lyrics that inspired a genre of musicians in Rock, R&B, Rap and Blues are all an indelible byproduct of his genius.

 James Brown

North Carolina native James Brown "Black and Proud"

Godfather Of Soul

"God Father Of Soul" during a recent music awards performance

But to African Americans, James Brown was the one individual who used his celebrity in public to insist in one of his top recordings," Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," just three months after the assassination of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is that moniker that is featured on his website that captures the essence of "The Godfather of Soul" perhaps more than any other because aside from being a entertaining pioneer, he embraced the causes that afflicted Black people and therefore was also quite instrumental in the civil rights movement although he was not a centerpiece to it.

During a time when Santa Claus was depicted as a white man in a red suit and appeared to only go to affluent neighborhoods, Brown sang about Santa Claus going straight to the ghetto. And when Blacks struggled with their identity, it was Brown who helped them take pride in their Blackness with "Say It Loud," a message carried on with the "Black Power" movement of the 1970's.

Chronicling who he was and what impact he had on society and the musical field at large is as complicated as figuring out either what Brown said in one of his songs or what kind of stunt he would perform at one of his sold out appearances.

It was rather ironic that as great as he was and as inventive he was as an artist that Brown also experienced many of the same social problems that confronted Blacks such as arrest, drugs and financial problems. And while Blacks certainly did not hold exclusivity to these shortcomings, Brown did not have public relation teams that would shield him from the media, thus many Blacks felt even more at one with him and his music. His music was his escape from his reckless abandons, but often times it personified it, which in and of it is what made him who and what, he was.

On Tuesday, fans held a candlelight vigil in Leimert Park to celebrate his life, music, and humanitarianism. It was a joyous occasion where residents of all ages and races came together to play his music, imitate his famous moves, and pay respects to a man who carved a unique path that many, especially Blacks, have followed.

"James Brown had many firsts that paved the way for other performers and music patrons," said Sheliah Ward, a principal in marketing and promotions firm Anambra Black Cross and one who performed public relations services for Brown decades ago. "He would not perform in venues where Blacks were not permitted to attend as patrons. He was the first to perform at Byron's Ballroom in Los Angeles, and the first Black to perform on American Bandstand."

Many in the crowd shared Ward's sentiments and spoke of Brown being an uplifting voice for Black America and creating, in the words of resident Mike Chatham, "a level of Black pride and consciousness that had not previously existed." It was a powerful, yet touching tribute to a man that came from humble beginnings and left the world a better place than when he entered it.

Born in a shack in the pinelands outside Barnwell, South Carolina on May 3, 1933, Brown appeared to be stillborn until his aunt Minnie Walker breathed into his mouth and throughout his 73 years, there was not a livelier human being.

His mother left him when he was 4 and he didn't see her again for 20 years. He was influenced by music early on by his father Joe Gardner, who sapped trees at turpentine camps for a living. He father gave him a harmonica and usually sang blues to the boy, but Brown admitted in his autobiography "Godfather of Soul" that he never like blues.

In the late 1930's Brown moved to Augusta, Georgia and made a living picking cotton and shining shoes. After he became world famous, he later returned to Augusta and purchased a radio station in the same place where he shined shoes.

He didn't land his first job singing until 1953 at Bill's Rendezvous Club in Tocca, Ga., as a member of Bobby Byrd's gospel group, the Gospel Starlighters. Brown didn't take to gospel and eventually, he and Byrd started a group called The Famous Flames and it was then they made a rough recording of "Please Please Please," a song that in 1956 became Brown's first Top 10 hit. That ballad about a man begging to keep his woman took on a raw sensual tone as Brown growled and yelped through the sound track.

He went on to record scores of classic hits which include "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good) from 1965, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" (1966), "Cold Sweat" (1967), and "Say It Loud-I'm Black and I'm Proud" (1968). These hits, as well as his legendary performances, will infinitely carry his legacy though the ages of time.

In 1985, Brown recorded "Living in America," a rousing patriotic song that was featured on the soundtrack for the fourth installment of the "Rocky" movie franchise. It served as a reminder that Brown was indeed an American icon who achieved the American dream without compromising who he was.

Just a couple of days before Brown's life came to a close at Emory Crawford Long Hospital on Christmas day in Atlanta, he was televised passing out gifts to kids and he was scheduled to perform well into 2007. His cause of death was listed as congestive heart failure.

Perhaps the Rev. Jesse Jackson said it best when he stated, "He was dramatic to the end, dying on Christmas day. He'll be all over the news all over the world today. He would have it no other way."

Staff writer Francis Taylor contributed to this report

Categories: Music

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