A Fitting Tribute to the Godfather

James Brown

This has been a good week for me. Everything has lead up to last weekend’s release of the James Brown biopic Get on up. I have been looking forward to this movie for several months now, and here I was preparing to finally see this major film event. I easily have that opinion because I rarely go to the movies to view anything on the big screen these days. Yet, here I was preparing to pay money to sit and watch a new release with an audience of strangers. As I drove toward the multiplex of theaters, I started to think back to the time of James Brown’s death. A friend of mine spoke with a young rap artist and asked what he and his contemporaries had planned in tribute to Brown. She stated that rappers had liberally sampled his music and made billions of dollars as a result, and therefore owed him some sort of acknowledgement.

At the time I agreed with my friend but later digressed a bit from that opinion. I don’t think it would be fair to put the mandate of a tribute upon one struggling hip hop artist on behalf of an entire genre and/or industry. Even some of the leaders in hip hop like Jay-Z, or P Diddy would struggle to speak on behalf of all rap artists although possessing a greater platform to do so. James Brown’s music has such a wide appeal worldwide, that the tribute should reach not only his audience, but also the audience that has been influenced by his music. Wow, that is indeed casting a wide net.

A motion picture just might be the perfect tribute for a legendary performer like James Brown. As I walked into the theater there were a few people in attendance, and I quickly took a seat where I could see most of the crowd as they filed in. Interestingly, most of the people were older than me. I am fifty years old meaning I was aware of James Brown in the height of his career, but I don’t think I could fully appreciate his music until later. Most of the folks seated around me surely had memories of Brown’s ascension to stardom. Then again, I took a closer look and saw much younger people. Children or perhaps grandchildren of the folks I noticed initially. This would be a great history lesson for the younger ones who never knew or saw a James Brown performance, but are still feeling the effects of his music. Our next generation of children can certainly recognize the iconic artist James Brown from photographs. However, his story and music are not understood and this movie will hopefully educate the young masses. Some years ago the film Ray starring Jamie Foxx in the title role effectively educated our young people about Ray Charles and his music.

Get on up is a thoroughly enjoyable film that I encourage everyone to see. As the musical portions of the movie played it brought back memories of this very good music of my childhood. I realized more and more the best word to describe James Brown music is original. The music he produced was unlike anything heard previously. Brown created a new standard of funk that still exists today; and I don’t see any change in the foreseeable future. The film also gives us insight into the factors and life events and explains why he developed the music that is now timeless.

I’m sure, like any Hollywood production, the creators of Get on up took a few liberties in telling the James Brown story. However, I think they got the overall feeling right. The Brown family lived in extreme poverty in nearby Elko, South Carolina, which was an impoverished town at the time. They later relocated to Augusta, Georgia when Brown was four or five. Brown’s family first settled at one of his aunts’ brothels and later moved into a house shared with another aunt. Brown’s mother later left the family after a contentious marriage and moved to New York. Brown spent long stretches of time on his own, hanging out in the streets and hustling to get by. Brown managed to stay in school until sixth grade.

The film revealed much about how James Brown developed his drive and work ethic. He would go on to become known as (among other names) the “hardest working man in show business”. Possibly the best aspect of films such as Get on up, is that the imperfections and pain of the subject are portrayed right along with the success. I have had the pleasure of meeting and even recording with a couple of musicians that played with Brown at times in their respective music careers. Through them I learned a great deal about James Brown long before his eventual death. As with any other great artist, they told some good things about their time performing with the Godfather of Soul and some negative stories I would never write. Nevertheless, all their stories fall right in line with other musical greats who knew what they wanted and demanded near perfection from hired musicians.

Finally the story of James Brown is being told and made available to all. This film does seem like a fitting tribute to one of the most amazing performers the world has ever seen.

(This post is dedicated Henry “Po Hank” Donahue, my fellow studio musician, friend, brother and one of the best musicians I have ever known who left us October 2013)

9 thoughts on “A Fitting Tribute to the Godfather

  1. James Brown is the man. Also, I love that you shared "Living in America." I don't think it will ever be mentioned without remembering Rocky IV. RIP Apollo:(

  2. I want to see the film because it's history… and I don't know much about James Brown other than through the media. My one and only recollection of him sadly is through Rocky III. I was a boy when it came out so I'm a generation behind.

    I didn't know anything about Ray Charles either until I saw that movie and was inspired to learn about his era, what they went through, what informed his music and the obstacles he overcame. It was an awesome learning curve for me.

    Thanks for sharing. I had no idea a move on him was even in the works.

    ~ Don Purdum

  3. Great post, easily the best post I have read from you. Of course I am bias because I have always found the showman known as James Brown to be fascinating. I remember seeing a clip of him when he was young and on Ed Sullivan; it was the whole cloak over the shoulder routine…incredible. He later did a show with Joss Stone and that is now a favorite show of mine. I am looking forward to seeing the film very much.

  4. I definitely want to see the film. What a huge talent. Thanks for sharing the video. It can't help but pep up any day's mood. I agree with you that a film about James Brown is a very fitting tribute.

  5. Thanks for that review! I have been toying with the idea of seeing this film…I was a big fan! So it's good to know that you liked it. James Brown ran into me one day… literally! He was performing at The Beverly Hills Supper Club in Northern KY and I had tickets to see him that night! I was walking in downtown Cincinnati on a lunch break and he was hurrying somewhere with his head down and plowed right into me! I have to say, that he was profusely apologetic, while I was struck totally dumb! After a second, I started laughing, so did he and i sputtered "I'm coming to see you tonight" and he replied, "Well you're a beautiful lady…I'll look for you wave." Damn…he did just that! Great memory and made me a forever fan:)

  6. My first exposure to James Brown was in a movie theater. I was probably 13 or 14 when I saw the TAMI show which included film of a live James Brown performance. I had no idea! Needless to say, he stole the show.

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