Say It Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud!
Soul Music as defined by James Brown: “Can’t… Can’t makes you a soul singer.”
This documentary of the ‘Hardest working man in show business’ broadens the definition of Brown as a soul singer and his separation of ‘show’ and ‘business.’ Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown is a 2014 film that begins when he was a still-born and ends as the influence of his career and life are interwoven in rap and hip hop.
James went to prison at age 15 for eight years for stealing clothes from a car. Prior to time served in jail, he was living with his aunt in Augusta, GA who owned a brothel. You sense from the interviews in the documentary that time served probably began after not having his parents during those years in Augusta. When he was paroled he lived with Bobby Byrd who had a band called The Famous Flames. This was the time when the singing and dancing for the soldiers at his aunt’s brothel along with the time served, placed him in the band as the inevitable leader. “The porch was full of people,” Byrd recalled of the music being performed with James Brown.
Segregation led to James Brown and The Famous Flames to play the Chitlin’ Circuit with other black performers. The band, like many bands, groups, and performers would “Arrive in New York City to show off what they had been honing on the road,” said the musician and author Michele Veal.
By the time Brown completed his cast as a showman he was influenced by Louis Jordan, Little Richard, Duke Ellington, and famed wrestler, Gorgeous George for which he imitated the cape being placed over his shoulders as if to rise like the Phoenix and belt out another performance.
We learn from the interviews that Brown was conservative in 1968, but backed the Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey for President. When Humphry lost, he felt like the President-elect, Richard Nixon, would champion his cause in the black community for entrepreneurship.
Politically he was pushed aside by Nixon and some of the black community when change did not happen. Yet James Brown was not deterred in his conviction of protesters at his concerts who called him a sell-out. He strongly believed that every black man could lift himself out of poverty and be successful, but Michele Veal said, “Not everyone else is that talented, or that ruthless, or that driven.”
Chuck D who was eight at the time he was influenced by James Brown said, “I was defining myself to Negro to Colored to Black because of ‘Say it Loud.’”
The Reverend Al Sharpton, who likened James Brown as his father, was 18 when he presented James with an accolade for his social work at a Soul Train show in 1974. Sharpton said he was “The father I never had… We didn’t grown up in the ‘We Shall Overcome’ era, we grew up in I’m black and proud era.”
By the mid-seventies and into the eighties and nineties, James Brown was hot in the DJ community. “Funky Drummer” which failed as a single soared as a sample by the DJ’s and rappers like Chuck D of Public Enemy.
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown produced by Mick Jagger and Victoria Pearman with Director Alex Gibney is a superb collection of vintage footage, concerts, and interviews by those who knew him and others who studied. Most importantly, the documentary provides the liner notes of his life. So “Get on Up” and get the funk from this film in your bones for a terrific timeline of James Brown!