The One: The Life and Music of James Brown
The definitive biography of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, with fascinating findings on his life as a Civil Rights activist, an entrepreneur, and the most innovative musician of our time
Playing 350 shows a year at his peak, with more than forty Billboard hits, James Brown was a dazzling showman who transformed American music. His life offstage was just as vibrant, and until now no biographer has delivered a complete profile. The One draws on interviews with more than 100 people who knew Brown personally or played with him professionally. Using these sources, award-winning writer RJ Smith draws a portrait of a man whose twisted and amazing life helps us to understand the music he made.
The One delves deeply into the story of a man who was raised in abject-almost medieval-poverty in the segregated South but grew up to earn (and lose) several fortunes. Covering everything from Brown's unconventional childhood (his aunt ran a bordello), to his role in the Black Power movement, which used "Say It Loud (I'm Black and Proud)" as its anthem, to his high-profile friendships, to his complicated family life, Smith's meticulous research and sparkling prose blend biography with a cultural history of a pivotal era.
At the heart of The One is Brown's musical genius. He had crucial influence as an artist during at least three decades; he inspires pity, awe, and revulsion. As Smith traces the legend's reinvention of funk, soul, R&B, and pop, he gives this history a melody all its own.
293, 320, 353–354, 375 Brown-Thomas, Deanna, 8–9, 292, 293, 320, 326, 352, 353–354, 374, 375, 378 Bryant, William Cullen, 4 Burton, Nelson, 78 “Butter Your Popcorn,” 221 Butts, David, 138–139 Byrd, Bobby, 48, 50–56, 60, 68, 70, 72, 75, 80–82, 91–93, 110, 128–129, 132, 148, 160, 167, 208, 212, 231–233, 237–238, 240, 241, 245, 252, 259, 291, 311, 345, 346, 379 Byrd, Jimmy, 191 Byrd, Robert, 323 Byrd, Zarah, 50, 52–53, 54 Caldwell, Erskine, 29 Calloway, Cab, 328 Campbell, Joseph, 142
jumped in their car and drove off fast, and so did the demonstrators who could get away from their attackers. Their bus passed Brown’s car on the road, and suddenly, Brown found himself sandwiched between the activists in front and racists behind, an approaching convoy of white supremacists in trucks and cars, waving bats and axe handles at the closest blacks they could find. At that moment, he said later, what he felt was something different from any solidarity with the activists. He felt dread
Shreveport, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and he’s at $4,500.” The audience, too, was changing. “On my first West Coast trip with James, the audience was basically black,” said Rasbury. “We had a few whites, but seventy-five or eighty percent was black.” Then “Papa’s” drops. “This time around, the crowd is changing to like 60/40 black/white in the South, and as you go to Texas, Arizona, it’s beginning to go 50/50.” It was a new bag, all right, but amazingly, Brown was crossing over more by the
school. Terrell lasted only about a year with Brown, from 1963 to 1964, and in that time, she fell into the rhythm of endless one-nighters, living on the bus and racing to the next stage. She also fell into the natural path of a James Brown featured female singer. Like most of the rest, she was sleeping with him, wearing the wigs he liked his women to have, and being showered with gifts. They played the Apollo, and Brown had her attended by hair stylists, manicurists, and pedicurists. He paid
out of Birmingham and landed him a slot as Brown’s announcer. But what gave him fame was the accident of the cape. Listen to Ray and the talk of Gorgeous George starts to sound concocted, crafted to give meaning to what was actually a fluke. He saw what he saw; he was there when it happened. “Back in the chitlin circuit days, there wasn’t no dressing room, there was an outside and an inside, and when you wanted to go off the stage, you went out the door and you were standing outside,” said Ray.