One : The Life and Music of James Brown (9781101561102)

BOOK: One : The Life and Music of James Brown (9781101561102)
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THE
ONE

RJ SMITH

GOTHAM BOOKS

Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.); Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England; Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd); Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd); Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi–110 017, India; Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd); Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Published by Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

First printing, March 2012

1   3   5   7   9   10   8   6   4   2

Copyright © 2012 by RJ Smith

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Gotham Books and the skyscraper logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Smith, R. J., 1959–

The life and music of James Brown / R. J. Smith.—1st ed.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN: 978-1-101-56110-2

1. Brown, James, 1933–2006.  2. Soul musicians—United States—Biography.  I. Title.

ML420.B818S65 2012

782.421644092—dc23

[B]

2011028536

Printed in the United States of America

Set in Bodoni Twelve ITC Std

Designed by Sabrina Bowers

While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

ALWAYS LEARNING

PEARSON

FOR JENNY

“It takes two to make it outta sight.”

CONTENTS

Introduction:
GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME

Chapter One:
A CERTAIN ELEMENTAL WILDNESS

Chapter Two:
THE TERRY

Chapter Three:
THE BLACK SATCHEL

Chapter Four:
TOCCOA

Chapter Five:
A NEW ORLEANS CHOO-CHOO

Chapter Six:
TOP BANANA

Chapter Seven:
THE TRAVELER

Chapter Eight:
STAR TIME

Chapter Nine:
KEEP ON FIGHTING

Chapter Ten:
THE CAPE ACT

Chapter Eleven:
MAN’S WORLD

Chapter Twelve:
GHOST NOTES

Chapter Thirteen:
AMERICA

Chapter Fourteen:
HOW YOU GONNA GET RESPECT?

Chapter Fifteen:
COLOR TVS AND DASHIKIS

Chapter Sixteen:
THE OTHER FURTHER

Chapter Seventeen:
MASTER OF TIME

Chapter Eighteen:
SOUL POWER

Chapter Nineteen:
FOLLOW THE MONEY

Chapter Twenty:
EMULSIFIED

Chapter Twenty-one:
THE HUSTLE

Chapter Twenty-two:
I CAN SEE THE LIGHT!

Chapter Twenty-three:
AN UPROAR ALL THE TIME

Chapter Twenty-four:
THE DANCER

Chapter Twenty-five:
HIT IT AND QUIT IT

Afterword

List of Interviewees

Other Interviews Used

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

Introduction

GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME

I
t was the slaves’ day off. About twenty of them got things rolling on Sunday, September 9, 1739, breaking into a warehouse less than twenty miles south of Charlestown, South Carolina, grabbing guns and powder, and shooting sentries who got in their way. They were African born, with memories of life in the Kingdom of Kongo (modern Angola, Cabinda, and the Republic of the Congo). Many were former Angolan soldiers. Now they were soldiers once more.

They marched from the Stono River heading south for Spanish Florida, where other escaped slaves had been granted freedom. Along the way they gathered guns and drums. The cadence they beat on those drums drew more to their ranks, as did their songs and the banners they carried. They shot whites as they found them, spared a tavern owner who had been good to his slaves, and burned plantations. The rebels could not, however, kill all of their tormentors. The lieutenant governor escaped their onslaught and returned with a brigade of planters and militiamen. Outnumbered and having lost the element of surprise, the rebels were defeated by the following Sunday. More than forty blacks and twenty whites were killed in what was called the Stono Rebellion. Stono was the largest slave revolt to shock the colonies in the eighteenth century.

After it was over, the governor of colonial Georgia, expressing his concern over the insurrection next door, filed a formal report to a representative of the Crown:

On the 9th day of September last being Sunday which is the day the Planters allow them to work for themselves, Some Angola Negroes assembled, to the number of Twenty…. Several Negroes joyned them, they calling out Liberty, marched on with Colours displayed, and two Drums beating, pursuing all the white people they met with, and killing Man Woman and Child…. They increased every minute by new Negroes coming to them, so that they were above Sixty, some say a hundred, on which they halted in a field, and set to Dancing, Singing and beating Drums, to draw more Negroes to them, thinking they were now victorious over the whole Province, having marched ten miles & burnt all before them without opposition…

Dancing, Singing and beating Drums: a unity expressed in performance. The drums communicated beyond the reach of the voice, and beyond sight. They moved bodies to join in brotherhood.

After the Stono Rebellion, South Carolina stopped importing African-born slaves. Too unmanageable. The hiatus lasted ten years, and when the colony again ventured into the trade, it avoided slaves from the Congo-Angolan region. Colonial legislators frantically passed the Slave Code of 1740, banning chattel from using or even owning drums. The overall law forbade drums and swords alike, making clear how South Carolina viewed the instrument: as a weapon.

That was how white colonials valued the drum. They had their own tradition of military percussion, and drawing on it, they understood the slave music as a call to war.

But to black Carolinians, the rhythms of Stono meant war and more. Drumming was a way of representing yourself as an imposing force, a way of demanding respect. As historian Richard Cullen Rath puts it, “The [Congolese] court tradition, which
manifested itself in the drumming and dancing that so intimidated planters, was a means of directly representing and displaying power…. [It was] perhaps the original form of broadcasting.”

South Carolina’s ban on drums stayed on the books for over a century, all the way to the Emancipation Proclamation. But, failing to understand the African use of the instrument, the colonial legislature achieved a meaningless goal. The cadence continued by alternate means. One legacy of the Slave Code was that bondsmen found other ways to keep rhythms alive without a drum: Writers of the time record a skill amongst slaves for tapping with different parts of their bodies, hitting the floor and walls with sticks, clicking, banging, and most of all, dancing. That patting, tapping, dancing all flowed into the body as surely as it flowed from it; it was absorbed and passed on to new arrivals. There was a kind of underground flowering after 1740, a sharing of skills that made the drum unnecessary at the same time that it made drumming ubiquitous. Rhythm created community. It brought the news.

I
t happened again and again, in various places.

Almost eighty years after Stono, the slaves came marching across the Savannah River, heading to Augusta, Georgia. They came from South Carolina, beating on drums and carrying wooden sticks on their shoulders that made it look like they were bearing muskets. It was 1817, and though they had been outlawed, here again were the drums.

From a distance, it must have looked like trouble. Though it was (wink wink) illegal to bring slaves from another state for sale in Georgia, here they came, under the gaze of a slave trader, with “all the pomp and circumstance of illegal triumph,” as a letter writer described it in the
Augusta Chronicle
.

Upon arrival in downtown Augusta, the slaves scattered. Somebody reminded the slaver that importing bondsmen was illegal, and he played it deadpan, shocked that anybody thought he was
trafficking. The drums, however, did not lie. They scattered, too, going everyplace slave bodies went.

P
ass it on: It’s 1843, and the editor of the
New York Evening Post
, William Cullen Bryant, is visiting Barnwell, South Carolina. He attends a Negro corn shucking, a merriment conducted by plantation slaves. A bonfire built of longleaf pine logs oozes pitch that makes the flames burst into the air. A pile of corn is gathered in one spot, where slaves will strip the husks as they gather and sing songs that Bryant reports are “probably of African origin.”

After work is done, the party moves to an expansive kitchen. Bryant describes that, “One of them took his place as musician, whistling, and beating time with two sticks upon the floor. Several of the men came forward and executed various dances, capering, prancing and drumming with heel and toe upon the floor with astonishing agility and perseverance, though all of them had performed their daily tasks and had worked all the evening.”

The corn shuckers then commenced a loopy military parade around the room and performed comic speeches that mocked the oratory of white Southerners. It was whimsy that masked something behind it, something the marchers, dancers, and the tappers were perhaps aware of. Or maybe they were just caught up in the fun of the moment. All the same, the fun and the music represented something, a custom had been passed down over generations to get to this kitchen.

BOOK: One : The Life and Music of James Brown (9781101561102)
8.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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