'Say it Loud: The Genius of James Brown' exhibit opens at Grammy Museum in Los Angeles

Positive changes for James Brown memory
James Brown

He made soul music big and sang it out loud during his life, but the last five years haven't been particularly kind to James Brown's legacy.


Saturday's opening of an exhibit dedicated to Brown at Los Angeles' Grammy Museum is the kind of positive change family members have been waiting years to see, now that estate haggling is about over.

"When you leave that and then come out to this now, you're out here with people who are just loving James Brown, it's so needed for our family," said Brown's daughter Deanna, who attended one of the last court hearings prior to boarding a plane to attend the exhibit's opening.

The opening, held on James Brown Day in Los Angeles, became a reunion for several Brown family members, including Deanna, her brother Daryl, sisters Venisha and Yamma, and Deanna's son, Jason, not to mention Brown's widow, Tomi Rae Hymie Brown, and her son with Brown, 10-year-old James Brown Jr.

"We're all happy," Deanna Brown-Thomas said. "Little Man (James Jr.) is so excited and happy, asking, ‘Are all my sisters going to be there?’ These are the types of things that we wanted to see happen and now they're starting to happen," she said.

It might not have happened, had former trustees succeeded in auctioning away many of Brown's personal effects.

"These are the type of things we were saving his stuff for, so that people could come and learn about James Brown," she said.

About 40-50 pieces form the groundwork of the exhibit, Say it Loud: The Genius of James Brown, which follows the likes of Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Bob Marley and Roy Orbison in the museum's special exhibits gallery, where it will be through Jan. 22.

"The whole point is not only to celebrate Brown's legacy, but also to introduce new generations to him," said Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli.

That means exposing kids to Brown's music, and a museum summer camp spawned a band that performed at the exhibit's opening, Santelli said.

Visitors get an intimate look at the process by which Brown wrote and performed music - from lyrics handwritten on scraps of paper to multimedia exhibits of concerts known as some of the greatest live performances ever - Brown's Live at the Apollo and his performance in the Teen Age Music International concert film (The T.A.M.I. Show), he said.

The exhibit means a large visage of Brown on a outdoor sign will be a constant reminder of the Godfather of Soul to passersby for months.

"I think that's the most exciting part," said Tomi Rae Hymie Brown, who lives in Las Vegas with James Jr.

Brown-Thomas spent time in Los Angeles schools before the opening, and was disheartened to learn how much funding was cut for music and arts education.

“They were so intrigued, and wanted to know more about James Brown, who he was and what he was about," she said.

She and Yamma began working with the museum on the exhibit about a year ago, she said. "Finally it's come to fruition," she said. "It's so good."

Most of the items in the exhibit are on loan from the estate, but others include video interviews with musicians who cite Brown as a major influence - Bootsy Collins, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, Steve Binder and Chuck D.

Surprise highlights will include some of Brown's "secret things" that might help explain the singer's well-known "great hair," Santelli said.

"I"m almost thinking we should have done it earlier," he said. "When I started to do the research on what he means to rhythm and blues, soul, funk, hip-hop, you see so many artists talk so admiringly about James Brown."

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