Some would say that James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, loved Augusta more than Augusta loved him. To sum up his relationship with Augusta, some would even be tempted to use the old adage that a prophet is never honored in his hometown the way he should be.
These naysayers would point to the empty Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center each May when Brown would come for his annual birthday celebrations. They would point to those people in the community (you know who you are) who disparaged Brown every chance they got after he was incarcerated and had legal troubles.
As a resident of Augusta since 1991, I have repeatedly heard the negative rumblings about Soul Brother No. 1. I am happy to say that I was never one of those naysayers. I never cast a blind eye to what Brown did in the past, but I focused on that key word: “past.”
EVERY TIME AN HONOR was pitched for Brown, you had those who would speak out against it because of the music star’s many failings. Didn’t he beat his wife? Didn’t he use drugs? Didn’t he go to jail? These were some of the excuses that people would use to shoot down Brown’s honors.
Despite the negativity that Augusta is sometimes known for, Brown never moved away to Hollywood, New York City or Europe. He stayed right across the Savannah River in good old Beech Island, S.C. He loved Augusta and fought through all the dark clouds cast upon him, and was rewarded in the process.
On Nov. 11, 1993, Ninth Street in Augusta was named James Brown Boulevard. This was not just another street. We all know how Brown felt about kids getting an education. I am sure that he was delighted to know that his boulevard would later border the Richmond County Board of Education headquarters and the new main branch of the East Central Georgia Regional Library.
Nearly a year before Brown died, he was honored with a statue in the heart of downtown Augusta overlooking Augusta Common. Although people have complained about the size of the statue and it not being on a pedestal, it is in a very prominent place – on what was termed the second-widest street in America, Augusta’s Broad Street.
ALSO, SEVERAL MONTHS before Brown died, he was able to have the civic center be named in his honor. The official name of the arena is the James Brown Arena. Imagine the tragedy if they would have waited to bestow that honor after his death.
Brown also has had his legacy continue after his death. He was going to be given an honorary degree from Paine College when he was alive, but instead was posthumously awarded this honor at his public funeral at the arena. His turkey and toy holiday giveaways still are going strong in his name. And his daughter, Deanna Brown Thomas, has the JB Academy of Musik Pupils, a music academy that is really making a difference in the lives of local kids. Next year, a new James Brown stamp will be revealed.
And now, there is a new James Brown movie coming out, titled Get On Up.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that Brown is getting a biopic about his life. I wished producers would have done it when he was still alive, like they did with Ray Charles. The movie Ray should be the stick by which all biopics are measured. As unfair as that sounds, I expect nothing less when it comes to the story of James Brown. I don’t mean to pit Charles against Brown, but Brown’s story is a more compelling one.
I had high hopes when I learned Spike Lee would be directing the James Brown movie. My hopes were even higher when I learned Lee was favorable to shooting the movie here in the CSRA. Just like Ray, many were hoping that Lee could do for the Brown biopic what he did for his Malcolm X movie.
Besides, I know that James Brown would have approved of his hometown being a site of his movie. We are talking about a man who mentioned Augusta in his songs, right along with major U.S. cities (listen to Night Train). Many people who know nothing of the Masters Tournament know Augusta solely because of James Brown. That’s how much pride he had for his city.
Sad to say, neither Lee nor the city of Augusta will play a huge role in the upcoming Get On Up. After Mick Jagger got the rights, director Tate Taylor was brought on board. When they brought Taylor in, he pretty much looked out for his own by shooting the movie entirely in Jackson, Miss., where he is a native. If Brown were alive, he would have looked out for his own by making sure the movie was shot here in the CSRA.
NOW THAT A MOVIE trailer, with Chadwick Boseman playing James Brown, has surfaced on the Internet, I have to say that I’m a bit skeptical, but will hold my judgement until after viewing the film.
The only question I have now is: Will Augusta get a red-carpet premiere of Get On Up? Can the Imperial Theatre, the Regal 20 or the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre be used? This would be a great way to get up, get into it and get the city of Augusta fully involved in Brown’s major motion picture. Or is this The Big Payback for all those critics and haters who have hounded Brown over the years? I hope not. But if Augusta is not deeply involved in some way, it will leave me Bewildered!
So in the immortal words of Mr. Dynamite: Please, Please, Please allow Augusta to be a major part of another milestone in the legacy of James Brown. For all that he gave to Augusta, he would have wanted the CSRA heavily involved.
(The writer is a teacher at Glenn Hills Middle School.)