My awareness of James Brown came as a young child, and it was quite accidental. I must
have been about seven or eight when my mother let me go to the movies alone while she
went shopping. She took me to the Valencia Theater in Jamaica, New York, and gave the
usher a few dollars to keep an eye on me. She would be waiting for me outside when the
movie was over (I wouldn't think of doing that today!). I don't remember what movie I
saw, but I remember getting up to leave after the cartoons were over. I noticed that the
lights did not come on, and the screen lit up, so I sat back down to watch. It was a short of
James Brown performing "Please, Please, Please". I was surprised because it was totally
unexpected. At that time, I had heard some music by James Brown but never paid any
attention to it. I had seen many groups perform music on TV shows like American
Bandstand and Ed Sullivan, (this was before there was "Soul Train") but I was not
prepared for James Brown! I had never seen anything like it in my young life!
The performance is a classic legend! James was clutching the mic, sweat pouring off his
face, begging "Please, Please, Please". Pleading from deep inside his soul, he drops to
his knees exhausted. A band member would come and put a cape over his shoulders and is
helped off stage. He throws off the cape and runs back to the mic pleading "Please,
Please, Please" all over again. That movie short changed my life forever. I realized that
an artists live performance added a great new dimension to music that I heard. I've gone
to about 50 concerts, and just a few have come close to the excitement created by James
Brown . I became a fan from that moment on.
My cousin Sharon was also a fan and would always get the latest 45's, so I heard his jams
as soon as they were released. We jammed to "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag", "Ain't
That A Groove", "Cold Sweat", "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World", "Licking Stick",
"Give It Up Or Turn It Loose", "Mother Popcorn", Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing",
"Sex Machine", "Super Bad", "Soul Power", "Escape-Ism", "Hot Pants", "Make It
Funky", "I Got Ants In My Pants", " Stone To The Bone", "The Payback", "Papa Don't
Take No Mess", and "Funky President", just to name a few. Besides creating some
funky grooves, James could DANCE!!! James had moves the had never been seen on this
planet! Many have tried over the years to dance like him but never came close. His
dancing has inspired other artists such as Michael Jackson and Prince / O(+>, but they
never had the innovation that James had.
To us, he was a local hero and role model because he lived nearby on Linden Blvd. in St.
Albans, NY. The house had once belonged from Bart Williams, a trumpet player with
Duke Ellington. James painted the house black and had a small moat around it. On
ocassion, he would open up the house to neighborhood kids, giving away records and
encouraging them to stay in school. James knew the importance of education because he
never had a formal education. Some of his time off stage was spent talking to black youths
trying to get them to set goals and attain their dreams. He never downplayed his past and
used it as an example of what one could achieve. He gave some young blacks college
scholarships to prove this point.
I also admired James as a businessman. James had owned a Lear jet at a time when it
was unusual even for a white man. He owned five radio stations and a restaurant chain.
He was also the first recording artist that had his picture on his records. He attained
success that was envied even by whites. Even though he would later have financial
problems with his business ventures, I admired his business achievements. I had
suspected that failures were due in part to his becoming a powerful black man in America.
I later found out that his radio stations failed in part due the inability to get national
advertising accounts, which should not have been a problem if they were white owned. His
claims of harassment by the IRS over the years were given some credence in 1975 when
it was disclosed that they spied on him from 1969 to 1973 for his "extremist views and
philosophies". James Brown will always be one of the people that I admire the most for
using his success to help his community.