From dueting with opera star Luciano Pavarotti to appearing on the Grand Ole Opry, James Brown did it all. And it’s the diversity of his legacy that the Augusta Museum of History wants to promote, according to Nancy Glaser.
“His influence was wide,” she said. “It was the whole spectrum.”
His children, gospel-radio personality Deanna Brown and Soul Generals music director Daryl Brown, said their father put Augusta on the map by changing the course of music history, just like Wilt Chamberlain changed the game of basketball.
“Music was on the two and the three,” Daryl said. “He put it on the one. That’s getting back to your natural rhythm. That’s the balance of nature: on the one. Right on.”
And that simple step of moving away from the backbeat to the downbeat influenced everyone from George Clinton — who stole Brown’s signature shout “on the one” for the song “Funk Gets Stronger” — to Bono.
“I remember Bono standing around waiting to meet Dad like a groupie,” Deanna laughed. “It was like being at home, but he was nervous. He said, ‘Do you think he’ll come out?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, Dad’ll be out in a minute. Just cool out.'”
One world was that of a global sensation. The other was of a man who came up through hard times and made a success of himself.
But when the horns began to blow, he was the Godfather. It was divine. It was inborn. It was soul music.
“He was one thing at home, he was one thing at the office, but when he got on that stage and got the music going, it was like nobody else, nothing else mattered. It was the sound of his music that was important,” Deanna said.
But beyond a love of music and of family, what he loved most was Augusta — not just the town, but the entire area.
“That’s why I love the song ‘Georgialina’ so much,” Deanna said. “It sums up his whole life.”
Brown fought with a past riddled with mistakes, defied racism, played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, witnessed sea changes in America and still strived to give back to a town that had once, in 1952, asked him never to return.
“He was persuaded into living in certain areas,” Deanna revealed. He was wooed by New York City, Vegas, Hollywood — even Scottsdale, Ariz. “But he knew that where he was from is where he wanted to stay.”
He was never ashamed to say he was from Augusta, and he always wanted to help the less fortunate.
“This is a black man who always lived in the South, that always had the white man’s foot on his neck. But never, ever did anything to hurt anybody. He understood humanity first,” Daryl said.
And now that he’s gone, it seems humanity understand him a little better.
“Sometimes, unfortunately, in death we really realize how big someone is,” Deanna said.
Daryl agreed: “You don’t appreciate water till the well runs dry.”
And to this area, Brown was a well that never would run dry. The city took him for granted. But Brown never wavered. When only a couple of hundred people showed up for his birthday bash one year, he put on the same show he would have for 10,000. He was the Hardest Working Man in Show Business — in part, because he remembered how he began.
“He wasn’t born with a silver spoon,” Daryl said.
“He stole a few cars in his day,” Deanna laughed.
And while his children never had to resort to crime to scrape a living, they weren’t handed everything in life, either.
“Uh-uh. Daddy made us work for it,” Deanna said.
And now that he’s gone, people want to honor him. Charleston wants to present the key to the city in June. South Carolina State University wants to honor him during their homecoming in October.
“Every time you turn around, someone wants to honor James Brown. It’s like he never left,” Deanna said.
But he has left.He has also left us with a legacy, one that Daryl hopes to maintain with the Soul Generals.
“I’m not here to reinvent the wheel. I’m only here to carry on the tradition that was handed down to me through these great musicians,” he said. And in doing that, the Soul Generals want to promote music programs in schools across the nation. It’s something that was so important to his father that he made each of his children play an instrument.
Daryl explained that he believes music is integral to humanity: “The universe is made of a tone. As the world turns, there’s a vibration going on.”
That vibration translates to sound, sound to music, and music to mankind. It’s mankind that made James Brown, when all James Brown wanted was to make music.
“He was a human being first. Y’all put him on that pedestal,” Daryl said. “He told people that he never wanted to be that big. He wanted to be able to go out to eat, for example.”
And while he made his mistakes in life and in dealing with his fame, his fortune and his family, on stage he was always Mr. Dynamite.
“Ain’t nobody said he was a saint. He was a musician,” Deanna said.
He worked hard, made his mistakes along the way and never made excuses. It’s about all that can be asked of a man, Daryl said: “You’ll find there’s a little James Brown in all of us.”
Payback (Celebrate James Brown)
Saturday, May 3
$35 in advance, $45 at the door