Ramblin' Rhodes: James Brown memorabilia is right here in Augusta

The James Brown exhibit at Augusta Museum of History gives fans a taste of the man and his music.

Next week on Thursday, July 24, several hundred people including several expected celebrities will be watching the Augusta premiere of the new James Brown movie biography Get On Up at Regal Cinemas off Wheeler Road.


And once the movie is over, most will head for the Augusta Museum of History at Sixth and Broad streets for an after-premiere party.

I can’t think of a better or more appropriate place to have it where on the second floor is the largest collection of James Brown memorabilia in the world.

The exhibit is without a doubt the most popular offering the museum has had in its 77 years of existence.

And it’s all due to one remarkable woman named Nancy Glaser who has been the executive director of the museum since July 1, 2005.

She was just what the Augusta Museum of History needed at that moment in time. Truly the right person for the right job at the right place at the right time.

Her mother, Jane Glaser, spent 20 years of her own museums career working with the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Museum Programs.

Nancy herself, before coming to Augusta, worked at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va.; the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla.; the Children’s Museum of Richmond, Va., and had just spent 11 years as director of the museum division of the Kentucky Historical Society where she helped plan and build a 169,000-square-foot history center in Frankfort.

Glaser understands that modern history can be just as important and interesting as ancient history. And she sees the importance of using 20th and 21st century entertainers and other creative artists as role models for local young people to show them that they, too, can make something worthwhile of their lives using their talents.

And she has a very good track record for putting on display the accomplishments of black Augustans.

Two months before Glaser became the executive director, James Brown unveiled his statue in the 800 block of Broad Street on May 6, 2005.

Neither Glaser nor I could have guessed that he would be dead the next year on Dec. 25, 2006.

At that time, the only items on display about Brown in the museum consisted of a white suit that he and his third wife, Adrienne, had donated to the museum in 1986 and some albums of his.

The base of the statue beginning with the day of his death became the focal point for fans from around here and afar to place personal messages on cards and leave other items of tribute.

It was the same as John F. Kennedy’s admirers did at Dealey Plaza in Dallas; John Lennon’s fans did at Central Park in New York City and Princess Diana’s admirers did at Buckingham Palace in London.

Just a few days after Brown’s Augusta funeral, I e-mailed Glaser on the morning of Jan. 2, 2007, this message:

“Nancy, I caught on TV late yesterday a piece asking what will become of the fans’ items left at the James Brown statue.

“I called Mayor Deke and left a message on his home machine that they should become a permanent exhibit at the Museum of History. It’s a natural fit considering its pop culture history and would be a huge draw for the museum.

“I’d be glad to help you and (then curator) Guy Robbins with an exhibit about James, and I think you could get some photos from The Chronicle of the items with the statue as well as some other photos for the exhibit.

“Before the city decides to junk the stuff, I’d get on this today if possible and contact the mayor about it.”

That same morning, Glaser e-mailed me right back saying, “I was thinking the same thing about the materials around the statue.

“Very much like the memories left at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, many of these items do need to be saved. I’ll contact the Mayor and Fred Russell this morning and propose the possibility.”

The very next day, Glaser told me the good news that those items that meant so much to Brown’s fans would be preserved.

“Dear Don, a quick update – the city/county government inventoried and boxed the most significant of the items at the James Brown statue today and delivered these items to the Museum.

“Give us a little time to do a “museum” inventory and then please arrange a time to come over and look it over. Thanks again.”

Glaser and Robbins initially put the items on display on the first floor of the museum near the Georgia Railroad steam engine in a large clear display box.

But it wasn’t to end there. No, Glaser had bigger things in mind to honor the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business and Soul Brother No. 1.

The following June of 2007 Glaser sent out a group e-mail to several area folks connected with entertainment, tourism and government.

“Dear friends,” she wrote. “The Augusta Museum of History is developing a large-scale plan which includes a special concert and an exhibit that will encompass James Brown’s life and his many contributions to the music industry.

“The Board and staff of the Museum invite you to attend a roundtable discussion that will be held at the Museum on Thursday, June 14th at 9 a.m. for your ideas and suggestions for this exciting endeavor.”

And from that meeting and other gatherings and with much help from Brown’s family came about the second floor exhibit that hundreds of after-premiere party goers will be seeing on the night of July 24 after they have seen James Brown portrayed on The Big Screen.

Not long ago, Glaser related in a media release, “People from around the world have come as far as Japan and Germany to visit the Museum since the exhibit opened in May 2008 to ‘get on the good foot’ with James Brown!

“It was always our goal to provide a place where fans and people around the world can pay homage to Mr. Brown and learn about him as a man, see artifacts and enjoy the extraordinary music he created.

“To do so in his hometown is a great honor and we are proud to have been able to partner with the city of Augusta, the Brown family and the James Brown Estate to present the first exhibit on Mr. James Brown.”

She concluded, “I can think of no more fitting tribute than this exhibition taking place in the town he loved.”