90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
The Music And Mission Of James Brown

A new look at the music and mission of the Godfather of Soul–James Brown.

Gospel-soul singer James Brown sings "Living in America" during his three-hour concert at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, Ca., on June 10, 1991. (AP)

Gospel-soul singer James Brown sings "Living in America" during his three-hour concert at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, Ca., on June 10, 1991. (AP)

Mister James Brown got all the top tags in soul music.  Soul Brother Number One.  The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.  Mr. Dynamite.

The Godfather of Soul.  He earned them.  His stage show was so electric.  His career was so long.  His music so exhilarating.  A new biography tells his story.  Coming up hard in “Georgialina”.  Battling all the way.  Becoming the one.

This hour, On Point:  the life and music and mission of James Brown.

-Tom Ashbrook

 

Guests

R. J. Smith, former senior editor for Los Angeles Magazine and contributor to blender. He is the author of The One: The Life and Music of James Brown.

Gail Mitchell, R&B senior correspondent and senior editor for Billboard Magazine.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “Lovability was not Mr. Brown’s salient attribute. So the reader who knows little of Mr. Brown’s story may not instantly grasp why that story is so mesmerizing. For that reader, three words of advice: “Please, Please, Please.””

USA Today “James Brown was never a big man, but even as a troubled young man growing up in abject poverty, he was larger than life. RJ Smith’s The One: The Life and Music of James Brown crackles with the same intensity Brown used to overcome his destitute beginnings to become the Godfather of Soul, who could whip audiences into a sweat-drenched frenzy with his primal screams and electrifying dance moves.”

Video: “Please, Please, Please” And “Night Train”

Check out this concert footage of James Brown from the TAMI Rock Concert in 1964.

Video: Get On Up!

James Brown in 1971 here, singing “Sex Machine.”

Playlist

“I Got You (I Feel Good)” (LIVE)
“Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” (LIVE)
“(Call Me) Super Bad” (LIVE AT THE APOLLO, 1971)
“Please, Please, Please” (PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, 1956)
“I’ve Got Money” (I’VE GOT MONEY, 1962)
“Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.” (MASHED POTATOES U.S.A., 1962)
“I’ll Go Crazy” (LIVE AT THE APOLLO, recorded 1962)
“Out of Sight” (LIVE AT THE T.A.M.I. SHOW, 1964)
“Oh Baby Don’t You Weep”
“Cold Sweat”
“Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”
“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (LIVE AT THE APOLLO, 1967)
“Funky Drummer”
“Get Down” by Nas
“Living in America”
“I Got You (I Feel Good)”

Excerpt: The One

Introduction

I’m not gonna show you the secret, James Brown would tell people who asked about the One, but . . . Then he would start talking.

Brown refused to reveal the mystery because the One was a trade secret. It would remain a puzzle because the more mystique it had, the more mystique he had, and mystique was good for business.

The One was a way to find yourself in the music, it was a means for drummers to come together with one another. It was a small element in a life’s work, but like the drip was to Jackson Pollock or the footnote to David Foster Wallace, for Brown the One was bigger than it first appeared, a trifling that embodied the world he made.

Maybe most of all, for James Brown, the One was an anchor, an upbeat that put him in touch with his past and who he had become.

As he once explained it: “The ‘One’ is derived from the Earth itself, the soil, the pine trees of my youth. And most important, it’s on the upbeat—ONE two THREE four—not the downbeat, one TWO three FOUR, that most blues are written. Hey, I know what I’m talking about! I was born to the downbeat, and I can tell you without question there is no pride in it. The upbeat is rich, the downbeat is poor. Stepping up proud only happens on the aggressive ‘One,’ not the passive Two, and never on lowdownbeat. In the end, it’s not about music—it’s about life.”

To Brown it was a heartbeat that connected him to the dancers and singers and time keepers who came before him. The One put him on a timeline, though the way he talked about the beat, it put him at the end of the line: the ultimate expression of a heritage.

He wasn’t gonna show you the secret. But if you listened . . .

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Mar 6, 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he speaks before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Since Republicans took control of Congress two months ago, an elaborate tug of war has broken out between GOP lawmakers and Obama over who calls the shots on major issues for the next two years. (AP)

Netanyahu’s speech. Hillary Clinton’s email. Obamacare back at the high court. A stunning start to the Boston Marathon bombing trial. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Mar 6, 2015
"The Sellout" is novelist Paul Beatty's new book. (Courtesy Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)

Author Paul Beatty’s novel “The Sellout” is a satirical look at race relations in America. He joins us.

RECENT
SHOWS
Mar 5, 2015
One in four women use psychiatric medication. The reasons for the medication aren't always so clear. (Flickr)

Are American women being prescribed psychiatric drugs – anti-depressants, anti-psychotics — for normal emotions? We’ll hear out one psychiatrist’s bold claim.

 
Mar 5, 2015
A car passes a memorial for Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson last summer, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Ferguson. A Justice Department investigation found sweeping patterns of racial bias within the Ferguson police department, with officers routinely discriminating against blacks by using excessive force, issuing petty citations and making baseless traffic stops, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the report.  (AP)

The big Justice Department report finds a pattern of racial bias in the Ferguson Police Department. Now what? We’re back in Ferguson – and beyond — for answers.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: March 6, 2015
Friday, Mar 6, 2015

Weasels, woodpeckers and a whole bunch of sassy McCall’s dress patterns. Oh, and thoughts on the provenance of caller and guest quotes when and where we post them.

More »
Comment
 
Answers To Your Questions On Black Holes
Tuesday, Mar 3, 2015

Yale University’s Priyamvada Natarajan answers your black hole questions in full. (Well, most of them.)

More »
Comment
 
Want To Listen To Lead Belly? Here’s Where To Start
Monday, Mar 2, 2015

Loved our show on Lead Belly, but unsure on where you should start to listen? Jeff Place of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage offers his best picks for a beginning Lead Belly listener.

More »
Comment