James Brown’s son finds solace in Detroit
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
“Soul Brother Number One” is a title that could only be held by one man, the great James Brown. Brown helped spark a revolution of his generation by providing the most dynamic and electrifying soundtrack for Afro-consciousness the world had ever heard. Now, almost seven years after his death, his family continues to be legally ensnared over his music catalogue’s earnings. For the sake of Brown’s legacy, his son, Daryl Brown, is now speaking out.
“I’m on my father’s side, number one,” Brown told the Michigan Citizen. “And I want people to know this is what they’re doing to James Brown. He belongs to the world.”
Daryl Brown spent this past summer and most of the fall in Detroit to build connections for his own music, celebrating the legacy of the city’s pioneers from the Motown sound to funk to today’s hip hop. After six years dealing with challenges to his father’s legal will in South Carolina, he came to Detroit to help regain inspiration for music and to prepare for another round of legal battles to secure the future of his father’s estate.
Brown is a drummer and guitar player who spent eight years with his father’s band, touring the globe twice. He says he had a strong and loving relationship with his father, with an admiration for the way he was able to touch the lives of others. His mother, Bea Ford, was three months pregnant with Brown when she recorded her hit duet “You’ve Got the Power” with James Brown in 1960.
“The people of Detroit loved James Brown; they really loved him,” he says. “All this legacy that is here, it’s fueling the fire. These are the people that paved the way for me. I wanted to see certain things and feel that vibe.”
In contention has been the “I Feel Good” trust, a charity established by James Brown to help underprivileged youth in South Carolina and Georgia receive an education. This year, the South Carolina Supreme Court overruled a settlement reached by the state’s attorney general for control of the trust, stating that the AG’s office had overexerted their authority in creating a settlement that went against the original will.
The case is deeply complex and emotionally fueled, dividing family members during a period when they should be working together to take the next step towards growing James Brown’s legacy. Daryl Brown cites South Carolina’s history of racial injustice toward African Americans as a factor in the legal proceedings.
“Roaches in the dark,” he says, “as soon as you turn on the light they start scattering. I’m the only one right now that’s really turning on this light. We’re making headway, but right now we need all the help we can get. I’m telling you now, that ‘good ‘ol boy’ system down there is terrible.”
The case has been well documented by journalist Sue Summer of the Newberry Observer. Many articles in the South Carolina newspaper detailing the case are available online.
“We talk to each other once or twice a week,” says Brown of Summer. “She’s really affected by it because she’s a humanitarian, she loves the children.”
James Brown’s legacy is vital to the late 20th century’s global struggle of Black empowerment, providing the soundtrack to the era with statements like “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” made during a time when most popular culture leaned towards silencing Black voices. His determination toward perfection inspired musicians and other cultural icons to add “Soul Power” to their messages of liberation to the world.
“He was a great motivator, he would get to the core of your soul and make the best come out of you,” says Brown of his father. “If he was a football coach, they would win all the time.”
Part of his father’s mastery, he says, was his passion for being as successful as possible in the music industry, securing his title as the “hardest working man in show business”.
“My father learned everything he could about this business,” he says. “He was the first to own his own publishing. He had radio stations, property, land, restaurants.”
Now, these legal actions could end up costing the family millions of dollars in court and attorneys’ fees. Daryl Brown says Detroit should be able to relate to the struggle of the family in protecting his father’s legacy, as the city’s own bankruptcy and emergency manager takeover has damaged the reputation and left residents in a legal bind.
Brown has now returned to South Carolina and Georgia to continue working on the case, but plans to return to Motown next year to make music. He wants Detroit and the world to stand up for his father, as he so bravely, and proudly, once did for them.
“This is what they’re doing to our James Brown,” he says, “that was my dad, but he belonged to the world.”