Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

A Tribute to James Brown

James Brown (1933-2006) changed music in the U.S. as profoundly as anyone. The “Godfather of Soul,” and the “Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness,” he pushed soul and R & B/rock from a concentration on melody to hard-driving rhythym. No one minded that his harsh vocals could be difficult to hear correctly. The power of his voice was in his passion–a passion which had him dancing and sweating all over the stage. It blew you away.

A man of contradictions, he could belt out the veritable anthem of black pride (“Say It Loud–I’m Black and I’m Proud!”) while wearing a pompadour instead of an Afro–and then turn around and vote for Richard Nixon! Born into poverty, raised in a brothel, he never quite shook off his demons–and the drugs and other self-destructive behavior clearly shortened his life.

But he embodied a more hopeful era and outlook for all that. Sure, some of his sung attitudes were anachronistic even when he composed them (e.g., “It’s a Man’s World.”). But the absolute contempt for women in much of modern rap is entirely missing–There are no “bitches” or “hos” in Brown’s lyrics. And his self-destructive behavior with drugs was not celebrated. Nor did he celebrate violence. Passion (on many levels), and sometimes anger came through his music, but never hate–and always hope. The generation that first made his music their own took all that powerful energy and tried to reshape a world into one that cared more for others–and that stopped rather than started wars.

I hope he found peace and I hope his passionate hopeful music lives on and inspires new generations.

December 31, 2006 - Posted by | music

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