James Brown and the Soul of a Soul Singer

By Henderson, Jane | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

James Brown and the Soul of a Soul Singer


Henderson, Jane, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


James Brown was more than a guy with a wild pompadour who danced.

He could be generous, but he also hoarded money. He valued family, but was arrested for domestic violence. His life mirrored issues of race, culture and class, and pop music owes him an enormous debt.

That's only a bit of what author James McBride concludes in his new book, "Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul."

"He was very entertaining," McBride says.

"But beneath that he was a deeply sensitive guy who cared tremendously about his community and his image and what people thought of him. He was wounded by a terrible childhood. I think what makes his story unique from others is there is not really one piece of American pop music you hear today that does not have some James Brown in it."

McBride talked recently while driving into Manhattan from his home in Lambertville, N.J. The author will be at the National Blues Museum on Wednesday to discuss even further the self-anointed Godfather of Soul.

McBride, who made a name for himself with his memoir "The Color of Water," primarily writes fiction. He won the 2013 National Book Award for his last novel, "The Good Lord Bird."

And tracking down facts about Brown, who died in 2006, was so difficult that McBride can't wait to return to the kind of writing that allows him to make stuff up. When the author was offered an inside story about the legendary singer, he says, his need for money after a divorce led him to accept.

But untying truth from gossip and fable and Brown's own public persona wasn't easy.

"James Brown didn't want you to know" about his true origins, McBride writes. He was not "easily found or discussed or discovered by anyone."

McBride's title comes from a line the Rev. Al Sharpton told him. After a concert, instead of mingling with celebrities and other stars waiting for him, Brown would sit for hours under a hair dryer, having his pompadour redone.

"Kill 'em and leave, Rev," he told Sharpton, a close friend whom Brown mentored.

Much of McBride's book reads more like an extended literary essay on race and music (McBride is an accomplished jazz saxophonist and a songwriter) than a traditional biography.

He sums up Brown's early life, calling it "known-world material":

Brown was born in Barnwell, S.C., in May 1933 or "thereabouts." He was an only child and his mother "left his father when Brown was four, five, or six, depending on whom you ask. Whether she was driven away or departed on her own is an open question, as she is dead and no one can seem to remember. ... Young James gathered coal, picked cotton, and hunted squirrels with his father, Joe Brown, a former sharecropper, who raised James with the help of extended family in the Ellenton, South Carolina, area, with female cousins who were more like sisters to Joe than cousins. Joe later took young James, nicknamed Junior, to nearby Augusta, Georgia, to stay with one of those female cousins a cousin James called Aunt Honey when Brown was still in grade school. Her Augusta home was filled with relatives and boarders and functioned, at times, as a brothel."

At 15 James was convicted of stealing car parts and spent three years in a juvenile prison. Afterward, he soon started singing gospel in churches with a group later known as the Famous Flames, and they recorded a record called "Please, Please, Please."

Between that and 1958, when Brown was mostly a solo act and had a hit called "Try Me," he traveled the "chitlin' circuit" then clawed his way "up the greasy pole back to radio, black fans, and eventually white listeners, where the big money was," McBride writes. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

James Brown and the Soul of a Soul Singer
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.