In celebration of Black Music Month the insideplaya has invited west coast based singer/songwriter Renee K. Dawson to sit in and contribute a guest blog about an experience that involved “The Hardest Working Man In Show Business” himself, James Brown.
On the threshold of the record hot summer 2001, President George W. Bush signed an executive order proclaiming that June is forever Black Music Month. My niece, a graduating senior at The Duke Ellington School of The Arts in Washington, DC, was invited to be a witness and also to perform an operatic spiritual for the historic occasion. Of course, this invitation was extended to my sister, mother, and me. The guests were stellar. We were escorted into the foyer of the White House where we awaited seating in the East Room. There in the company of budding artists and legendary luminaries such as Sidney Poitier and Debi Allen, and standing right beside us was none other than the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, dressed in black, beaming and impeccable and iconic. Forever etched in my earliest memories are images of Mr. Brown (and my oldest brother) doing the ‘mash potato’ and the ‘camel walk’ in the height of the civil rights movement, singing, “Say it loud. I’m Black and I’m proud.” His pitch perfect soul music defined the hurt and the pride of our struggle all the way through his last hit and tour, “Living in America.” He’s a naturally bad brother because he didn’t come from playing around in those 16 counties in Georgia. Despite his personal (rap sheet) and professional (chronic tardiness) controversies, he is still my starting reference point of the soul of Black America. James Brown contributed at least one album in every home.
THE GODFATHER OF SOUL
Also memorable was that my mother pointed him out by asking, “Who is that man?” At the time she was diagnosed with early dementia, and it took until the last minute to get her ready for this appropriately first-class occasion. The power of music is healing. As we made our introductions, she remarkably brightened as she made the connection as she shook his hand. Afterward in the sunny reception room, she was moved by the music of the live band playing, and she sang the tunes she recognized and danced until the end of the celebration. This trip was to be her last outing before she succumbed to Alzheimer’s. While there are so many things she does not remember now, her eyes twinkle and she breaks a proud smile when the great story of her trip to the White House to see her grand-daughter sing before the president is recalleD.