I was reading the New York Times book review section where I came across a new book that got my attention titled “The One: The Life and Music of James Brown,” by RJ Smith. Since I am old enough to remember Mr. Brown’s impact on African America and dare I say the world I found myself realizing that his untimely death in 2006 has left a void in what was once called “Soul Music”.
Young people today don’t realize the relevance of Mr. Brown’s accomplishments, although I doubt if brown himself ever doubted his own significance as a historic figure and an undeniably game-changing artist. It was quoted in the Times article that “his showmanship and art altered the music world. But James didn’t bring blacks to the mainstream; instead, he brought the mainstream to blacks and made them appreciate and internalize black music and culture themselves.”
Everybody who has ever heard a song by Mr. Brown has attempted to tell his story and try to dissect his complex and multilayered life. Regardless of the opinion most have failed to fully capture the depth of value that Brown and his music played in transforming American life. The article said:
“Smith not only effortlessly highlights James’s unmatched musical career, but also provides a well-studied historical context for the basis of his artistic expression. Chronicling the legacy of resistance through music, Smith explains how James’s artistry was closely linked to the struggle for civil rights as well as the cultural expression of blacks, from Africa through slavery and the journey into the 20th century. It would after all be impossible to discuss 20th-century music and the civil rights/black power movement without putting James Brown at the top of that list. And “The One” is the first serious book to explain precisely why.”
“When you reflect on the life and legacy of James Brown, it cannot be explained without taking into account the period in which he was raised and the experiences that shaped his identity. But just as important is how he incorporated his social/political views into his music in a way that was soulful and entertaining beyond belief.”
James Brown was an enigma and I would imagine by his own design, which could very well be the price of fame. Brown who grew up in the harsh and segregated south could not have been born into the multitude of success obtained throughout his career. This was accomplished by hard work, grit, and dogged determination. His life by virtue of being in the entertainment business was made up of constant challenges and hurdles, but his perseverance and tenacity — coupled with sheer talent — provided the world with a lens on the American black experience.
The article stated that “The One” thrives in highlighting how James’s irrefutable genius and artistry transcended social blockades and eventually drew audiences from all sectors of society. The funk originator never compromised his roots and never sold out in order to be accepted; rather, he made the world revolve around him. But despite his tremendous achievements, his success was still limited.”
The hardest-working man in showbiz not only made us black and proud, but he also possessed a soul rooted deeply in equality and justice for his people. I will not attempt to rewrite a story that has already been well written nor have I read the book but I am suggesting that to understand the greatness in a man that so many have tried to tarnish – maybe we should read the book.
I don’t believe there are any perfect men but there are men with perfect intentions. Therefore, I’m going to overlook any faults or frailties the man may have had and just say as Mr. Brown said so boldly in a recording at a time when he could have ended his career – “Say it Load I’m Black and I’m Proud”. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…