James Brown's family works to create museum at Beech Island home

Five years after Godfather's death, project still a dream

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James Brown told his children he wanted his Beech Island home to one day become a museum.

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James Brown's Beech Island estate was the singer's home from the mid-1970s until his death in late 2006.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
James Brown's Beech Island estate was the singer's home from the mid-1970s until his death in late 2006.

“He wanted kids that came up dirt poor like he did to know that you can, at some point, achieve so much, if you keep on trying and trusting in God and believing in yourself,” said his daughter Dr. Yamma Brown. “You can one day obtain great things.”

It has been five years since the Godfather of Soul died on Christmas Day, and his dream has been delayed because of legal battles over his assets. However, his children haven’t given up hope of honoring their father’s wishes, said daughter Deanna Brown-Thomas.

“Dad worked hard to have what he had. He was proud of his home. This is the home that dad always talked about being like a Graceland,” Brown-Thomas said.

Graceland is the Memphis, Tenn., mansion of Elvis Presley that was converted into a world-renowned museum that draws millions of fans annually.

Brown’s Beech Island home contains items such as furniture and clothing, but many sentimental items were lost in an auction in 2008 to re­pay debts, such as a 1962 red Thunder­bird; Bibles; photos of Brown with celebrities, politicians and family members; childhood photos; and furniture from New York that was moved to Beech Island, including a stereo with a record player.

The Brown children spent a day selecting items to auction, but trustees ignored their wishes and put everything on the auction block. The items might never be recovered, unless the people who bought them donate or loan items to the museum.

“There’s still some memorabilia in the home, and we have some things at the different museums,” Brown-Thomas said. “We’ll have enough stuff to do a museum with, but there were some very, very sentimental pieces that went on that auction block that we were not happy about. We were not against an auction, but we were against a lot of the pieces that got away because they were very, very sentimental.”

She was able to recover some clothing, including a cape her father had hired his longtime tailor to make but never got a chance to try on before his death. She had to take the tailor to court to recover it.

“I can’t wait. People all over the world are going to come. I look forward to the day when we can open up the gates and say welcome,” she said.

Work to be done

Born in a Barnwell County shack, Brown wanted his fans to know he came from humble beginnings, Yamma Brown said.

“He didn’t want us to stage anything,” said Venisha Brown, Brown’s oldest daughter. “He wanted it to be exactly how it was when he lived in it. It’s like going in there and being caught in a moment of time.”

Her father lived as if his home were a museum, Brown-Thomas said.

“If you walked through his house, even when he was alive, it would look like you could just rope off certain areas and then just let people walk through,” she said. “He had awards and that kind of stuff up on the walls and around the house.”

Brown’s favorite room was his bedroom because he usually was exhausted after traveling, Venisha Brown said. The hardest-working man in show business would relax for about 48 hours before getting back to work.

At one time Brown lived with his family in Queens, N.Y. In February, the New York home was named a historical landmark, and Brown-Thomas would like his Beech Island home to also receive that designation.

To prepare the home to become a museum, family members are completing repairs. They’re still deciding on major details, such as where to place Brown’s remains, which are now at an above-ground, two-tiered mausoleum in the yard of Brown-Thomas’ home. She said she would like to have an interactive and educational station for visitors, perhaps a studio where they can record their own songs, and the family will form a committee to assist with other ideas.

“When we get ready to open it to the public, I don’t know exactly how we will set it up. We don’t have a name for it yet,” Brown-Thomas said. “We’d love to hear some great ideas from people. We’d like to hear what some of his fans would like to see.”

At the entrance of the grounds is a sign for the first James Brown Boulevard. The black iron gates with gold trim open into a quarter-mile-long driveway that winds through 100 acres that include a pond, rolling hills and endless trees. To the right of the home, Brown’s tour buses sit in a field, and further up the hill are stables that once housed horses and show dogs.

Deanna and Yamma grew up in the home with Brown and their mother. The family moved to Beech Island from their Walton Way home in the mid-1970s, and Brown stayed there when he and his wife separated in 1979.

Brown designed changes to the home and started an expansion in 2000.

“He bought this house because my mom saw it and liked it. He pretty much kept the shell of the original home and built around it,” Brown-Thomas said.

Today, the four-bedroom, 10,000-square-foot home has several “Bs” to denote Brown’s last name. Brown and Tomi Rae Hynie were married in the newly added theater room.

The home’s original garage was converted into a hair salon. It had a large window so Brown could always see who was coming up the driveway. Even if someone called first and made it past the gate, it wasn’t guaranteed that Brown would let them enter his home, Brown-Thomas said.

“That was anybody. We all had to follow those rules. You had to call first, unless he called first for you to come over,” she said.

Beyond a museum

In addition to the museum, the Brown children want to continue their father’s legacy with a feature film, tribute album and projects that were important to him, such as keeping music in schools and teaching children about the importance of playing instruments. They also plan to continue his philanthropy with the James Brown Turkey and Toy giveaways and are encouraging their children to continue the traditions, Yamma said.

Venisha plans to keep her father’s legacy alive by performing his music, especially for younger generations. On Saturday, she performed at Tony Howard’s Motown Elvis Christmas Show at the Imperial Theatre. She also performs with the James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils and hopes to one day have a tribute show in her father’s honor.

Daryl Brown, Brown’s son and lead guitarist for eight years, said he believes his father is misunderstood.

“It was so much good that he did, and I’d like to see that brought forth,” he said. “He gave away a lot of money people don’t even know about. He took care of a lot of families. The civil rights movement. I’d like to see his legacy based on just being a great humanitarian and loving his country.”

He also wants people to know how driven his father was. Once in South America on tour, Brown had a catheter in him the night before, but he removed it to perform the show.

“I hope people just take a good look at James Brown,” Daryl said. “You’ll see yourself in there. We’ve all got a little James Brown in us. Despite everything else, he was an amazing man.”

FIT FOR A GODFATHER AND A KING

James Brown’s family contends the singer wanted his house to become a museum like Elvis Presley’s.

                         JAMES BROWN’S ESTATE          ELVIS' GRACELAND

 

Location                        Beech Island, S.C.                          Memphis, Tenn.

Years of residence       Mid-1970s to 2006                         1957-1977

Square footage                      10,000                                        17,552

Bedrooms                                    4                                                   8

Acreage                                     100                                                14

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE?

James Brown’s children welcome fans’ suggestions for a name for a museum at his Beech Island home and what items you would like to see on display. Post your suggestions online at augustachronicle.com.

TOY GIVEAWAY

The annual James Brown Toy Giveaway will start at 9 a.m. Monday at James Brown Arena.

Comments (12) Add comment
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blues550
374
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blues550 12/18/11 - 07:55 am
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Idea! And a brilliant one at
Unpublished

Idea! And a brilliant one at that! The Brown "family" could secure those masters of mucking things up to run things - the board and staff of the Gorgia Golf Hall of Fame.

Why sure, think of the money they could overspend on brick walls alone.

What a dandy idea!!!

seenitB4
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seenitB4 12/18/11 - 07:56 am
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Great...I hope they make his

Great...I hope they make his dream come true...just goes to show that you can come from poor roots & become a millionaire oneday...
look at Elvis-Oprah-Brown.....
Also says that it doesn't matter how sick you are if you are dedicated to a job/career....NOTHING stands in your way...a great showman just like Elvis.

mable8
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mable8 12/18/11 - 08:17 am
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What legacy are the children

What legacy are the children talking about? His criminal record? There is no honor in committing crimes; let sleeping dogs lie and let james brown be forgotten. james brown couldn't hold a candle to Elvis and this family knows it. As for being a role model, james brown is far from being a member of that category.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 12/18/11 - 08:23 am
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHqUipinDyw

Now come on mable...give him some credit...

The man gave jobs to many----he worked his entire life----he supported his off-spring------gave turkeys to the poor-----with the right $$$ manager he probably would have been a billionaire...
Yes he had problems......like others....(Tiger-Scott Dean--Clinton--Elvis--Sandusky--- M Jackson &, many others)
Some may not like his music ...but it will be around for a long time...betcha.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 12/18/11 - 08:46 am
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Interesting stuff about

Interesting stuff about Brown....

As band leaderBrown demanded extreme discipline, perfection and precision from his musicians and dancers — right down to when performers in his Revue showed up for rehearsals all the way to whether members wore the right "uniform" or "costume" for concert performances.[49] During an interview conducted by Terri Gross during the NPR segment "Fresh Air" with Maceo Parker, a former saxophonist in Brown's band for most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s and 1980s, Parker offered his experience with the discipline that Brown demanded of the band:

You gotta be on time. You gotta have your uniform. Your stuff's got to be intact. You gotta have the bow tie. You got to have it. You can't come up without the bow tie. You cannot come up without a cummerbund ... [The] patent leather shoes we were wearing at the time gotta be greased. You just gotta have this stuff. This is what [Brown expected] ... [Brown] bought the costumes. He bought the shoes. And if for some reason [the band member decided] to leave the group, [Brown told the person to] please leave my uniforms ....
—Maceo Parker[50]
Brown also had a practice of directing, correcting and assessing fines on members of his band who broke his rules, such as wearing unshined shoes, dancing out of sync or showing up late on stage.[17] During some of his concert performances, Brown danced in front of his band with his back to the audience as he slid across the floor, flashing hand signals and splaying his pulsating fingers to the beat of the music. Although audiences thought Brown's dance routine was part of his act, this practice was actually his way of pointing to the offending member of his troupe who played or sang the wrong note or committed some other infraction. Brown used his splayed fingers and hand signals to alert the offending person of the fine that person must pay to him for breaking his rules.[51]

wondersnevercease
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wondersnevercease 12/18/11 - 09:30 am
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Death has a way of making
Unpublished

Death has a way of making Saints out of all of us.........................................

donaldchancock
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donaldchancock 12/18/11 - 09:32 am
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Would like to suggest the

Would like to suggest the name for James Brown Museum: "FEELGOOD"

soldout
1280
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soldout 12/18/11 - 09:34 am
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He did a lot but his money

He did a lot but his money management score was probably a zero. I heard there is probably still money buried on the grounds. One business in Augusta was paid with cash with mold on it from being in the ground and they had to dry it out. His financial troubles were constant. Many rich people are doing the same today and will end up the same. What he and others don't get is to diversify your money between a minimum of ten money managers. Some will be crooks and some will make big mistakes but you only need one of two that are sharp to be set for life.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/18/11 - 10:11 am
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Where did they finally bury

Where did they finally bury him? They kept him in that room at the funeral home for a long time.

One thing I wouldn't do is use the bathroom in his house. Remember why he went to prison? "Ya'll been using my bathroom."

JRC2024
8548
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JRC2024 12/18/11 - 11:30 am
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The house in the picture is

The house in the picture is not the one that he lived in most of the time. It was a rambeling one story brick ranch with an open carport on the left side. It was torn down to build this one. The comment about the fingers is true. A friend of mine played in the band(the only white one) and he would tell us about it and the extreme rules. Regardless of his problems, he was a great entertainer and I loved his music then and do now. Mable8, people change. A friend of mine in West Virginia said to me "How can I not like you, you are riding around in a golf cart drinking a beer and listening to James Brown or on a John Deer lawn tractor doing the same thing". And seenit I liked the Living in Americia video you posted the other day. It sent me to many more.

allhans
23546
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allhans 12/18/11 - 01:55 pm
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I just don't see it as

I just don't see it as another Graceland but perhaps the fans will come in droves and line up to see his home..what do I know?

itsanotherday
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itsanotherday 12/18/11 - 03:04 pm
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True allhans; why should any
Unpublished

True allhans; why should any of us care what the family does with the estate? As long as no public funds are used I could not care less, and hope they are fabulously successful. Maybe the area will experience a financial windfall.

DoggieMom
226
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DoggieMom 12/18/11 - 06:34 pm
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I thought he died in Atlanta,

I thought he died in Atlanta, not at home?
How would Beech Island handle any traffic?
They're already unfriendly to bicycling groups.
I'm not sure I'd pay to view his home.

kiwiinamerica
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kiwiinamerica 12/18/11 - 06:38 pm
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"Brown’s favorite room was
Unpublished

"Brown’s favorite room was his bedroom.............."

Uh-huh.............no kiddin'.....................LOL!!

Jake
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Jake 12/18/11 - 10:19 pm
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I never much bought into the

I never much bought into the Godfather label but I certainly did into the Mr Dynamite, Soul Brother #1 and King label. Mr Brown (as he liked to be known as) was by far the best entertainer that I have ever seen. I have not seen them all but what I saw of JB was inspiring. All you need to see is the TAMI Show to witness the man at his zenith. There will never be another James Brown. I wish his family success in their venture to open up a museum in honor of their father. When I return to Augusta I would like to venture out there and view it. "Are you ready for star time?".

itsanotherday
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itsanotherday 12/18/11 - 11:05 pm
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Jake, I had no use for him or
Unpublished

Jake, I had no use for him or his music; but I accept that he was a superstar internationally, and had a profound influence on music style in general. I hope his heirs are successful in their endeavor, and Augusta reaps some benefits as well.

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