Originally created 05/06/04

Happy birthday, Mr. Godfather



James Brown's birthday Monday should have - and probably could have - been a little happier.

There had been plans all but guaranteeing that the Godfather of Soul would have a funky good time on his 71st birthday. A music festival named in his honor was slated for this weekend - at which Mr. Brown was to have performed - and a statue of the legendary soul singer was to have been unveiled on Broad Street.

But plans change.

On Jan. 28, Mr. Brown was arrested at his Beech Island home on charges of criminal domestic violence. Sponsors of both the music festival and the statue went into scramble mode - if not pulling support outright, then at least questioning their involvement. Once again, the controversial performer found himself embattled by a community unable to separate the performer from the private person, to separate the long and distinguished list of artistic accomplishments from his rap sheet.

So we have a music festival that no longer boasts Mr. Brown's name or participation. And the statue, 25 percent paid for by city funds, is ready for casting at a Florida foundry, probably awaiting a few final checks for its completion.

The truth is that whatever Mr. Brown's transgressions might be, whatever foibles and failings may taint his personal life, for most, he is an entertainer. Even those of us who live literally up the road from Mr. Brown are not privy to any dinner-table arguments that might occur, to any outbursts or accusations.

What we see of Mr. Brown is the public person, the generous soul who distributes turkeys and toys during the holidays, the musical alchemist whose sliding syncopated rhythms continue to determine the path of popular music. What we see of Mr. Brown are the things that deserve honoring, the artistic contributions, the unwavering support for the community he has always called home and the millions of smiles that have spontaneously sprouted on hearing the percussive opening chords to I Feel Good.

Those are the things that deserve a statue.

Now, Mr. Brown, I can't give you a statue, nor do I have access to the resources required for the world-class music festival you so richly deserve. In fact, all I can offer you is heartfelt thanks for music that has colored my life and the contributions you have made to the city I also call home. That, and an honest, earnest happy birthday.

Happy birthday, Mr. Brown, happy birthday to you.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.