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Lights and shadows of the chaotic life of James Brown: immense musician, civil rights pioneer and abusive husband


Highlights: James Brown: Say It Loud is a new documentary produced by Mick Jagger and two of Brown's daughters. The documentary looks at Brown's life as a musician, civil rights pioneer and abusive husband. Brown was born in South Carolina and raised in Georgia, where he also died on Christmas 2006. He married four times and had nine children, both in those marriages and in two more romances, and his relationships were chaotic, complex and violent. The four episodes of the documentary will be broadcast on A&E on Monday and Tuesday.

A new documentary produced by Mick Jagger and two of the nine children he had from five relationships shows new facets of the late funk pioneer, whose immense inheritance took 15 years to distribute. “For a time, I didn't like my father,” his daughters say today

In the United States—and in much of the world—in the mid-20th century, blacks were not black.

They were, in a euphemism for political correctness in a terribly segregated country, “colored people.”

But the sixties arrived and the pioneers arrived.

Some, like Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, achieved dreams thanks to law, religion or political pressure;

others, thanks to popular culture, also managed to reach places unexplored in 400 years.

One of them was James Brown, composer and singer, a southern boy of humble origins and from a broken home who effectively made black people black.

In August 1968, four months after King's assassination, he wrote and recorded

Say It Loud - I'm Black & I'm Proud



soon became an unofficial anthem of his community and the Black Power movement.

And that he made black people, finally, identify with that word, and recover not only a word but also an identity.

The strength of the southerner Brown (born in South Carolina and raised in Georgia, where he also died on Christmas 2006), pioneer of funk and black music, extended throughout his life and his more than 900 songs .

Now, 17 years after his death, his legacy is put into perspective in a new documentary, produced by two of his daughters and Mick Jagger.

But just as his musical and professional career is exalted, his personal miseries are also revealed, both in the footage and in new interviews following it.

Among them, the abuse that his father subjected his mother to (who ended up running away from home) and that he also perpetuated on his wives.

He married four times and had nine children, both in those marriages and in two more romances, and his relationships were chaotic, complex and violent.

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In the four episodes of

James Brown: Say It Loud

, directed by Deborah Riley Draper and broadcast on the American network A&E on Monday and Tuesday (the first of which can be seen, in some countries, on the Internet), the story is discussed. Brown's power in establishing a then-unique sound and linking it to a community, and also in providing it with a recognizable identity through music.

With old footage and interviews with audiences from the time, but also from the current moment, this evolution can be seen.

“The word


is something [bad] that has basically been placed on the black man in America.

And hey, I'm black and I'm proud, but I don't want to have to say, 'I'm black,' like you have to say, 'You're white.'

I want to say that we are people and that we are brothers and that we have the same struggle,” an African-American man describes in one of the episodes, in old, archival images.

After King's death, the fight for civil rights became fiercer and the word black took on a new meaning, among others thanks to Brown's theme.

From left to right, a guest with Yamma Brown, director Deborah Riley Draper and Deanna Brown Thomas at the premiere of 'James Brown: Say It Loud', in New York, on February 13, 2024. Joy Malone (Getty Images )

The leader of the New York rap band Public Enemy, Chuck D, remembers being eight years old when it was released.

“The song was dangerous, aggressive and political... but at eight years old, all I know is that it's funky and that I say the word black, not colored anymore.”

Rapper Questlove, drummer of The Roots, film director (his debut was acclaimed with

Summer of Soul

a couple of years ago, awarded at Sundance) and also co-producer of the documentary, explains that it is “probably one of the bravest and most policies that James Brown never made.

It is the original Black Lives Matter.”

Jagger himself acknowledges that for him he was “a brilliant performer, inspiring from the beginning, so strongly committed to civil rights.”

There is no doubt about Brown's powerful musical and political message, but the artistic and personal facets of an individual do not always run parallel.

Chaos reigned in their relationships, in his life and even in his death.

At just 16 years old he was in prison (from which he managed to leave early when another prisoner, a singer, discovered the mastery of his voice in gospel), but his life had already been complicated before.

His mother, Susie, had him when she was barely 16 years old, and she suffered the abuse and mistreatment of his father, Joseph, so much so that she decided to leave him and his five children and flee to New York.

And that harsh and violent behavior was repeated in the star's marriages.

James Brown with, from left, his daughter Yamma, his third wife, Adrienne Rodriguez, and another of his daughters, Deanna, at the 34th Grammy Awards, held at Radio City Music Hall in New York on February 25, 1992 .Vinnie Zuffante (Getty Images)

The first was with Velma Warren, in 1953. They separated in 1969, although upon the artist's death, in 2006, she tried to argue that they had never signed the divorce and that therefore she had the right to his inheritance;

Her case was rejected.

With her, Brown had her four oldest children: Teddy (died in a traffic accident at the age of 19), Terry, Larry and Lisa.

Meanwhile, in the mid-sixties, Brown had two relationships with two singers: one with Yvonne Fair, from whom his daughter Venisha was born in 1965, who died of pneumonia at the age of 53, in 2018;

and another with Beatrice Ford, with whom he had another son, Daryl, who in 2014 released a biography of his father.

After the divorce came his most high-profile marriage, with Deidre Jenkins.

They married in 1970 and separated four years later, although it was not until 1981 that they divorced.

They had two daughters, Deanna, 55, and Yamma, 51. The first is the head of the James Brown Family Foundation, which keeps her father's legacy alive, also in the media.

The second already wrote a book about the musician a decade ago.

They are the ones who co-produced

James Brown: Say It Loud

, and now they say in interviews that with the documentary they seek to bring his figure closer to younger people.

In a talk with a local Georgia media outlet, Deanna states that her father is still “the most sampled artist in hip hop today,” but that those who grew up with him will also discover more about him.

“It's as if my father narrated the documentary.

And he talks about controlling his destiny.

I think that is important for young people, that they understand it, that you can search, follow and find your own destiny,” she says.

“There is an opportunity to go back to the original, to the person who got into this business, not just music.

He was a civil rights icon, he was very involved.

But he was also just another brother from Augusta, Georgia,” says Deanna.

James Brown and his wife Deidre Jenkins land at Heathrow Airport, London, in February 1973. Evening Standard (Getty Images)

“It is a look at his entire figure, not just at his music,” comments the director in the same talk.

“And we see that he was born during the Great Depression, he danced during World War II, he recorded his first album in the middle of the Korean War, he rose to fame in the sixties and created the anthem, the edict and the most important principle for our culture.

Say it loud: I'm black.

And I'm proud.

That was a gift for us.

A lesson.

But it's also incredibly important because, for 400 years, we've been self-silenced.

We were not allowed to speak.

We were not allowed to meet.

And James Brown stood up and said, 'Say it loud.

Use your voice.

Make your narrative your own.'

Those are the best lessons for anyone: our generation, the next and those that come after.”

In another interview with


, Yamma and Deanna explain that their childhood was not easy with their father.

“When you see a member of your family being hurt, you don't have the best feelings toward the person who causes that harm,” said the first, referring to how her father hit her mother.

“At that moment I was very, very angry with my father.

From time to time I still return to that place, not to belittle my father, but as a review of my own life and the domestic violence situation, thinking about how much all that shaped me.”

Yamma herself, she remembers, jumped up once, when she was barely six years old, to defend her mother at a time when Brown was going to hit her.

It was the last time.

By revealing these moments, the sisters try to place their family in a specific moment in time, show that they were human and talk about what happened and how to overcome it.

Deanna acknowledges that her father's very presence was “intense.”

“There was a time when I didn't like my own father.

I didn't like him because of his behavior.

I saw a lot of things when he was growing up.

I heard a lot, which could have damaged me for life.

He never had that anger against us because we were his daughters.

It was a situation between husband and wife,” she defends, explaining that her father always came to apologize to her mother.

“Something that didn't erase everything, but knowing his compassion, my mother was receptive to it,” she says.

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A post shared by James Brown II (@jamesb.ii)

After his divorce, Brown remarried, this time to Adrienne Rodriguez, in 1984, with whom he had no children.

During her marriage—with frequent breakups and reconciliations—he was arrested several times for mistreatment of her.

In fact, at that time he spent three years in jail for fleeing the police, was convicted of weapons possession, and underwent drug treatment.

Rodriguez passed away in 1996 and he went on to live with Tomi Rae Hynie, his fourth and last wife... or not.

It turns out that when Hynie got married she was already married to another man in Texas, and she had not officially divorced.

She even annulled that marriage, but she never officially remarried the artist.

In June 2001 they had the musician's ninth and last child together, James Joseph Brown II, and in 2003 they separated, although they continued living together.

Hence, after his death in 2006 she presented herself as his legal widow... when she had not even been his legal wife.

The issue became complicated and fights between the heirs caused the funeral to be postponed for three months.

The inheritance took longer to resolve: its 100 million were the subject of trials and disputes for almost 15 years.

What Brown wanted was for most of his legacy to be used to build schools and soup kitchens for disadvantaged children in the South.

But it wasn't that easy.

Tomi Rae Hynie tried to play tricks - the South Carolina supreme court declared that she was not the legal widow in 2021 -, three other people claimed to be Brown's children, his official heirs wanted quick money and made legal decisions (sales of rights, among others) ahead of time... and everything got complicated.

As the attorney general and then governor of South Carolina declared to

The New York Times

in 2014 a decade ago, “the biggest mess imaginable.”

The “oceanic recording work” of James Brown, as the critic Diego Manrique defines it, has even been surpassed by his life and his legend.

Source: elparis

All news articles on 2024-02-22

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