James Brown was known as the “Godfather of Soul,” “The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business,” “Soul Brother Number One,” “the Minister of New New Super Heavy Funk”, and he… single-handedly blazed a memorable trail in American music.
A very special exhibit, ‘Say It Loud: The Genius of James Brown,‘ features diverse memories, moments, artifacts and rare photographs depicting James Brown’s role as an American Legend, a cutting edge trendsetter of his time in fashion and dance. Get a first-hand look at how Brown’s music and celebrity positively impacted the Civil Rights Movement and race relations of the 1960’s.
Let’s look at the man and the musician:
Brown was born in the back woods of South Carolina in 1933. By the age of four, after his parents relationship had dissolved, he was living with his Aunt Honey, a madam of an August, Georgia brothel.
Brown earned his income through odd jobs, from picking cotton and shoe shining to dancing. His unique talent for singing developed through church.
At the age of 15, after breaking into a car, Brown was sentenced to an 8 to 16 years in jail. In the ‘lock down’ he led a gospel choir and also made fast friends with a local musician, Bobby Byrd. After serving three years in jail, his release found James Brown a part of Bobby Byrd’s own vocal group. The vocal group identified as the Famous Flames, were R&B, and performed across Georgia in the mid-’50s. Ralph Bass, of King Records talent heard their demo tape of “Please Please Please,” was impressed and the song was released in 1956, becoming their first hit single.
In 1958, “Try Me” was released and a succession of hits followed.
During the late 50s and 60s, James Brown, himself, was getting notice through his talents and flamboyant behavior. He had every dance step, to include the “camel walk,” the “mashed potato,” and the “popcorn” totally mastered.
Throughout the 1960s, The Famous Flames toured while performing nightly, up to five or six nights weekly. In 1965, funk was in for the Flames with the song “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
Brown, not only a respected musician, was now quickly becoming respected for his speaking out as an African-American. In 1966, James Brown’s song “Don’t Be a Drop-Out” urged black children to get an education. During the same year, Brown headed to Mississippi to visit the wounded civil rights activist James Meredith, who had been shot during his “March Against Fear.” In 1968, Brown launched “Operation Black Pride.” Also, by 1968, he was sharing the pointlessness of rioting. In August of 1968, he recorded “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
James Brown continued to top the charts in the early 70s, however, the mid-70s were hard on James. In 1973, his oldest son, Teddy, died in a car accident, and the IRS wanted millions from Brown in back taxes. His was, at this point, a career with domestic complications, personal addictions, scandal, and financial burdens.
In 1980, he made an appearance in THE BLUES BROTHERS and enjoyed a comeback, with a hit single with “Living in America. “
He was one of the first inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
On December 25, 2006, Brown died of congestive heart failure. Gone was an expert at blending gospel, pop and soul. Having wrestled with the demons of bad, it may be said that James Brown was finally a free man and a ‘soulful’ survivor.