No one can say entertainer James Brown hasn’t been abundantly recognized for his unique accomplishments.
In fact, he has been probably the most honored person in Augusta-area history, beginning Feb. 4, 1969, when Mayor George A. Sancken Jr. designated the date as “James Brown and Paine College Day.”
The occasion was Brown coming back to Augusta to perform a concert in Bell Auditorium to raise money to rebuild Paine College’s Haygood Hall administration building, which had been destroyed in a fire.
Look magazine, an international publication, that same week published an issue with Brown on the cover and a headline asking, “Is he the most important black man in America?”
Thousands of people lined Broad Street for a parade in his honor just a short time after his private jet touched down.
Not bad for someone who had been arrested and jailed 20 years earlier for breaking into cars on the very same street.
The native of rural Barnwell County, S.C., was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1983 at a banquet in Atlanta, and in 1986 he was among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Even though Brown had moved back to South Carolina in the 1970s, Augusta Mayor Charles A. DeVaney declared June 28, 1986, to be James Brown Day in the city.
U.S. Rep. D. Douglas Barnard Jr. proclaimed “James is indeed our No. 1 ambassador” at a lengthy ceremony at the Augusta Riverfront Marina, with Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris and President Reagan sending congratulatory messages.
In January 1997, a ceremony was held to honor Brown with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
An unusual honor came when the “James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge” was dedicated in September 1993 in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Brown appeared at the ribbon-cutting dressed in a black hat, black cowboy boots and a powder blue jumpsuit. He took the microphone and yelled “Can I take it to the bridge?” with about 2,000 people shouting back “Yeah!”
On Nov. 20, 1993, DeVaney held a ceremony to rename a section of Ninth Street between Broad and Twiggs streets as “James Brown Boulevard.” In November 2003, Mayor Bob Young announced that all of Ninth Street would be renamed in Brown’s honor.
As a writer of hit songs and a former resident of New York state, Brown was inducted into the New York Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2000.
Another prestigious honor came his way when he was named one of five recipients of the 2003 Kennedy Center Honors. The other recipients were actress Carol Burnett, country music legend Loretta Lynn, director Mike Nichols and musician Itzhak Perlman.
On May 6, 2005, as a 72nd birthday present for Brown, Augusta unveiled a bronze statue of the entertainer in the 800 block of Broad Street across from Augusta Common. Brown himself pulled off the cover as a large crowd cheered.
Just two months before he died on Christmas Day 2006, Brown attended a ceremony at which the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center was renamed “James Brown Arena.”
A month later, Brown was in London to be inducted into the United Kingdom Music Hall of Fame.
It was there he would sing his trademark song I Got You. It would his last performance.
His last appearances would come in Augusta at his annual toy giveaway three days before his death.
His accomplishments would be celebrated again at the funerals held for him at the Apollo Theater in New York City, Carpentersville Baptist Church in North Augusta and James Brown Arena.
Soon after his death, the Augusta Museum of History opened a major exhibit on the second floor honoring his life and music career.
The museum recently added the Grammy he won in 1986 for Best R&B Vocal Performance for the song Living in America, and the last award he received while alive, from the United Kingdom Music Hall of Fame.
Who knows what will come in the future to honor the hardest working man in show business?
His family still hopes to turn his former Beech Island home into a sort of Graceland-type visitor destination, and another music festival has been discussed.
Either way, Brown’s name and memory will be around for a long time to come, especially with those in Augusta who buy tickets for shows at James Brown Arena, travel James Brown Boulevard or visit the James Brown statue and the James Brown exhibit.