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November 23, 2016

Poppa Had a Brand New Bag.....The Godfather of Soul

by Kathleen Barker

As a teen of the 1960's, one of my more memorable evenings was a trip to Dixie Ballroom in Gwynn Oak Park, located in Baltimore Maryland.  A large number of my friends were excited to get inside for an evening of dancing with abandon to the music of James Brown and The Famous Flames.  We weren't just listening to recorded music.  The Godfather of Soul and his band were actually playing on the stage.  We moved, sang and celebrated his unique talents.  Yet we were young and ignorant of the struggles and discrimination that black artists faced every day.

Years later, we read of Brown's impoverished, hardscrabble youth.  He had boxed, sang gospel, went to a juvenile detention center after a robbery conviction, and worked as a janitor.  The gospel group he had originally joined while in prison also sang R&B, eventually performing at college campuses, until Brown contacted his idol, Little Richard.  Richard's manager auditioned Brown and his Flames and quickly agreed to act as their manager.  From there, he wrote and recorded his first hit song, "Please, Please Please".  Brown's dynamic dance moves and vocals were unequaled throughout his career.  His personal life was tumultuous:  multiple marriages, prison time, multiple instances of domestic violence, and drug use.

Anyone can lay down a Wikipedia-style stairstep history of an artist's life, and that's what I was expecting from author James McBride's Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul.  That's not what I found in this book.  McBride offers lovely fruit of exhaustive research on Brown's background and complicated life.  His wit and passion reveal the cultural landscape of the U.S. from the Fifties until his death in 2006.  Brown had wished to leave a large amount of money to benefit the poor children of Georgia and South Carolina, but a legal battle has raged for over ten years among his numerous wives and children, consuming millions, while the Godfather's body lay in a gilded coffin in his daughter's backyard for much of that time.

Buy Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul at Amazon

Kathleen Barker was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. A graduate of Blessed Sacrament, the Institute of Notre Dame and Towson University, she spent twenty years as the much-traveled wife of a Navy pilot and has three children. While working for a Fortune 500 insurance company in New Orleans, she wrote feature and human interest articles for their magazine and received the Field Reporter of the Year award. After Hurricane Katrina, she returned to her beloved state of Maryland where she started work on "The Charm City Chronicles". All four volumes, "Ednor Scardens", "The Body War", "The Hurting Year", and "On Gabriel's Wings" are available in Amazon's Kindle store.

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  1. Thanks Kathleen. I am definitely adding this one to my lists.

  2. You are welcome! The man had such a rollercoaster life that it makes for great reading.