One month in the spring of 1989, I was the program chairman for the Aiken Kiwanis club. I was thinking about who would be a good guest speaker, and James Brown came to mind. At that time Mr. Brown was on work release in Aiken, and I thought since he was trying to upgrade his public image, he might even agree to come.
I called his attorney, George Anderson, and he said he would ask Mr. Brown if he was interested. The next day George called me back and said Mr. Brown would be delighted to appear.
I remember, after hanging up the phone with George, I said to myself, "What did I just do?" The Aiken Kiwanis Club was, for the most part, white, middle-aged-to-retired men. We also had several retired military. Just how would James Brown play to this crowd?
What an interesting lunch I had talking with the Godfather of Soul, about jamming with the Beatles, Elvis and performing at the Apollo Theatre. And that day, in the ballroom at Houndslake Country Club, the Aiken Kiwanis Club rocked!
Mr. Brown talked about so many things - entertaining the troops, helping quell racial disturbances, meeting with U.S. presidents, singing all over the world. But the most welcomed thing he did was to walk over to the piano and play a compilation of his famous songs. He ended with God Bless America, and encouraged everyone to join in. The man could work a room!
After he spoke, I presented him the traditional Kiwanis letter opener and quipped that he could use it soon to open up his fan mail. He replied in a gravelly voice, "Hey, hey, hey."
After the meeting, Mr. Brown stayed to shake everyone's hands and to chat with members. He also lingered to talk with my two sons who had come. He was very gracious, sincere and friendly, and even accommodated their request for him to play and sing Living In America.
We've all heard about James Brown's problems, and there's no excuse for some of the things he did. (We're all members of the Clay Feet Club!) But I'll never forget the day when James Brown spoke to the Aiken Kiwanis Club, and showed his good side.
(Editor's note: The writer, a former sales employee of The Augusta Chronicle, now lives in Charleston, S.C.)
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