James Brown: the Godfather’s Soul lives on in Richmond
on February 14, 2012
Editor’s Note: The following is a guest column on Richmond social history by George Livingston Jr., a decorated celebrity photographer and the son of longtime political leader George Livingston, who was the first African American elected Richmond mayor. For more of Livingston’s work, visit Livingston Entertainment.
Last summer I talked to Mrs. Deanna Brown Thomas, daughter of music legend James Brown. We spoke of a Grammy Museum exhibit that would be on display in Los Angeles.
We talked about me contributing items from my collection for this exhibit, which I was happy to do.
The James Brown Exhibit opened in September 2011, and will be open until February 13.
The exhibit includes show outfits, videos of his performances, vintage LPs, 45s, photos and personal notes. I submitted a few items, including the photo of Brown and Mick Jagger from the movie “The TAMI Show.”
What many people don’t know is that “The Godfather of Soul” has a strong connection to Richmond.
My interest in James Brown started when I lived on 15th Street in Richmond after seeing him on television in 1965. Back then, my dad, George Livingston, had a reel-to-reel tape recorder that he used to practice for his speaking engagements. My dad and his friend Nat Bates put the James Brown song “Out of Sight” on the tape recorder.
Brown was like no performer I had ever seen. Even his radio advertisements crackled with energy.
At the time, I had begun collecting records and photos from magazines such as Ebony, Jet, Rock & Roll and Tiger Beat. I would use the photos from these magazines in building scrapbooks of James Brown history.
In 1974, my sister Grace and I attended The James Brown Payback Show at The Cow Palace in San Francisco.
After the show we met James Brown at the Hyatt Regency, and from then on I traveled and had a relationship with “The Godfather Of Soul” that most fans could only dream of.
In recent years James Brown has been in the headlines with songs like “Living In America,” produced by Dan Hartman. Hip-Hop welcomed Brown too, sampling his songs for modern hits like Biz Markie’s “The Vapers,” which sampled “Poppa Don’t Take No Mess,” Patra’s sampled the Lynn Collins song “Think.” Many more Brown classics have been sampled through the years.
He teamed with Full Force recording the song “I’m Real,” a powerful musical statement that commanded respect and issued warnings to those looking to imitate his style.
Fittingly, Brown was among the first group of inductees to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
But the later years weren’t all golden. With the joy and success came the pains of tax issues, reports of spousal abuse, and a high-speed chase that led to his incarceration. When Brown was release in 1991, he joined Bay Area-legend MC Hammer on stage at the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland for an HBO Documentary.
But I like to remember James Brown as the vigorous and gracious performer who came through Richmond in 1992. My dad was mayor at the time, and the council honored Brown with a proclamation from the city of Richmond. After the ceremony, my dad drove Brown to Marina Bay and stopped by Salute’s Ristorante for drinks. After that, they drove to my dad’s house, stopping at street corners along the way on Cutting Boulevard to chat with astonished fans and residents. When they reached my dad’s house on 39th Street, the car was swarmed with hundreds of fans who had gathered in the street – drawn by Brown’s limousine, which had been parked out front.
One of those in attendance at the City Hall ceremony was current Richmond City Councilman Nat Bates. Yes Nat Bates, my dad’s friend in the 1960s who had the James Brown song Out of Sight on that tape recorder my dad used to practice his political speeches.
James Brown’s music has touched millions. His music and his presence have had an incalculable impact on the city of Richmond as well.
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