Former Augusta Mayor Bob Young clearly remembers his first encounter with James Brown.
It was about 40 years ago, and Mr. Young was a disc jockey at WBBQ radio station in Augusta. Mr. Brown was in town for a concert at the Bell Auditorium. He had just released a Christmas album, and Mr. Young was playing the songs. Among them was Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto, which wasn't one of the big hits at the time, he said.
"I was playing the album when James Brown and his manager Ben Bart came by the station and stayed about two hours," Mr. Young said. "We had a great time."
They continued their association in various places by chance and by design, Mr. Young said.
"When I was in the Air Force in Denver, Colo., in the late '60s, I got a chance to go backstage after the show," he said.
In December 1970, Mr. Young engineered the live radio broadcast of Mr. Brown's concert in Vietnam. He also attended Mr. Brown's wedding to Tomi Rae at his Beech Island home in December five years ago.
"He's a man of the world," he said.
Mr. Young also did the first TV interview of Mr. Brown when the entertainer got out of prison in the early 1990s, he said.
"I asked him why he was so controversial," Mr. Young recalled. "James Brown is out in the future. Everybody knew he was the Godfather of Soul, but many people in the entertainment industry saw him as the successor to the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Elvis died, and all the pressure was on him."
The extent of Mr. Brown's international fame was brought home to Mr. Young when he attended the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York in 2000.
"He's an international celebrity, but it's kind of hard for us to see that here in Augusta," he said. "It was overwhelming to be with James Taylor, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney and hear them talk about Mr. Brown and then perform on stage with him.
"To see it on TV just doesn't do it justice."
In November 2003, Mr. Young as mayor of the city played host to a James Brown Day celebration just before Mr. Brown was honored at the Kennedy Center. He was given a key to the city, and the final block of Ninth Street from Broad Street to the Jessye Norman Amphitheater on Riverwalk Augusta was renamed James Brown Boulevard.
But Mr. Young said he wanted to do something to honor Mr. Brown other than just a street.
"A statue seemed like a natural thing to do," he said. "I didn't see any urgency in it until I was about to leave office. I had some conversations with Dr. John Savage about doing a statue and worked on raising the money."
People in Augusta either love Mr. Brown or reject him, Mr. Young said.
"The man has done some incredible things," he said. "It's hard to provide leadership in his industry, but he rejected racism. He tried to provide calm in a time of rioting. He encouraged schooling, although he didn't graduate.
"He reached out to the down and out. He did things people will never know about."
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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