This article is part of a series in celebration of a new, dynamic voice in Black America: the NUBIANO Exchange. Brace yourself for the NUBIANO experience.
by Shayna Rudd
When I hear funk music, there is a certain type of homage paid to our ancestors. It’s the kind that links the Middle Passage to blues and blues to jazz: a musical mosaic. The “spirit of life” can be found in the downbeat of funk-infused songs by Prince (“I’m a Star”), Michael Jackson (“Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”) and Usher (“Yeah!”). This ever-present “soul,” however, can be found in every song by the legendary James Brown, the Godfather of Soul and Originator of Funk. The spirit of Brown’s soul is found not only when he is singing (or giving cues to his band), but in the lively responses received in front of a live audience.
For several decades, Brown’s influence extended beyond himself — touching the lives of people across the nation. Didn’t it? I ask this because on December 25, 2006 the world was not just awakened by the joy of the holiday spirit, but the lament that one of America’s most renowned musicians had died. It came as a shock to hear of James Brown’s death, especially since we knew that he had participated in his annual turkey giveaway that Friday in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia. Brown, although extremely ill, was also preparing for a tour. It is unbelievable how dedicated this man was to entertaining the world despite his own personal issues. Issues that didn’t just stop with illness, but began with a companion suffering from substances abuse and a family who disliked her. At the time of Brown’s passing, his “wife,” Tomi Rae Hynie was away in rehab. She returned to a padlocked house leaving her homeless and without any money, she claimed. This was the beginning of a dramatic and classless end for the life of the man with the famous feet that inspired so many, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, to get some soul.