Augusta, Georgia – (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006), James Brown, acclaimed singer, songwriter, bandleader, and record producer was professionally known as the Godfather of Soul, The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, and The Boss. His peers will remember him as the R&B pioneer who invented “the funk” and captured a nation with catchy hooks, fancy footwork, quick spins, and half splits. The media will remember the musical giant whose controversial lifestyle kept audiences glued to their television set, favorite radio stations, and newspapers. Music industry professionals will continue to marvel over his numerous hits and record sales that continue to skyrocket generation after generation.
To the African-American baby boomers James Brown was more than a music man or hit maker with a song and dance. To those of us who grew up in the sixties and experienced the brutal and hostile treatment during the civil rights era, we have a different appreciation for Soul Brother Number One [which we respectfully call Mr. Brown]. We understand the subliminal, yet profound messages in his music and self-proclaimed titles. With the release of his historical recording, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” James Brown united a race of colored people who had developed their own cast system based on hair texture and skin complexion. This song of solidarity removed the shame and inferiority complex associated with being black in America.
With that one song, James Brown gave his people a sense of belonging and pride by lifting our self esteem. Long gone were “Banana Boat”, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, “Wade in the Water”, and other Negro spirituals… Gone were the pressing combs and fading creams… and in came another string of hits by James Brown. “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing” addressed racial equality and affirmative action, while “Don’t Be A Drop Out” was a national awareness campaign promoting higher education. Women’s social issues were also addressed in “It’s A Man’s World” where Mr. Brown declared the world “would be nothing without a woman or a girl.”
James Brown was an activist who believed that people of African descent could achieve the American dream by loving ourselves and our brother man; and not by “hating the other man” as he would so eloquently state. Mr. Brown backed his messages of racial empowerment by purchasing WRDW radio station - better known as “The Real Georgia Power” in Augusta, Georgia. Many students from Paine College were given part-time jobs and internships with pay to help offset the cost of their education. Black radio personalities and executives came from around the country to the city of Augusta to work for a black-owned media company because media was one of the most difficult positions to obtain for blacks. Many have gone on to accomplish great things in the area of politics, entertainment, and broadcasting.
The WRDW radio station served as the voice of the civil rights movement in Augusta and the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). Black people could now hear their favorite songs as well as the social issues that concerned them and their communities. Local politicians were interviewed so Blacks could become informed on their platforms and positions on the issues. This forum took blacks out of second class citizenship status and into mainstream America where the United States Constitution proclaims all men are created equal. Through the station, Mr. Brown launched a voter registration drive and encouraged everyone to exercise their right to vote.
James Brown lived the American dream. The street where he shined shoes and the concert venue where he performed to sold-out crowds now bears his name; and a bronze statue now bears his likeness on Broad Street in Augusta [where we purchased his music]. To those who had the opportunity to work with him, Mr. Brown would always say that all men, black or white, came to the earth through the birth canal of women so no man is better than the other. Others may have better circumstances, but given an equal opportunity we too would excel.
Many artists today copy James Brown’s musical style and stage performances, but have no knowledge of the man’s true spirit. Most are unaware of his many contributions to his community or country. Mr. Brown’s ideology was simple: truth and reality lives in the heart of man. Through the many challenges of his demanding yet successful musical career, he reinvented himself to meet the diverse audiences around the world. He lived through many difficult times including idolization and admiration, contempt, betrayal, character flaws and humiliation; but he lived his life by what he felt was right and not by what others did not understand. Mr. Please, Please, Please; Mr. Dynamite; and other fictional characters were created for entertainment purposes only. But James Brown’s life and legacy are much more than record sales and exciting stage performances - so we should all take a moment to reflect on the man behind the music.
History tells us that Abram Lincoln freed the slaves, but James Brown freed me and a nation of African Americans because he freed our minds and started a revolution inside our spirits. That is why Mr. James Brown is a true American legend.