James Brown: Legend, believer, Augusta son

December 25, 2006

It's a long way from James Brown Boulevard in Augusta to the Kennedy Center in Washington, to Carnegie Hall in New York, to Paris, to London, or to Japan.

James Brown covered a lot of miles over the span of his career, but he was always quick to tell you his heart belonged to Augusta.

Maybe that's because his struggle started here.

He was born on May 3, 1933 in Barnwell. When he was 5, James came to Augusta to live with relatives.

He would shine shoes on the very street that now bears his name.

He was 25 years old when he hit it big. His first number one hit, "Try Me", came in 1958. It would be the first of 17 number ones over the next four decades.

In 1986 James Brown became a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The next year, he won a Grammy for best R&B performance.

James Brown's career was honored in every important way. He was a celebrity even to celebrities.

There was a special Lifetime Achievement Grammy award, and in 2003 he rose to the status of entertainment royalty when he was honored by President Bush at the Kennedy Center.

But with James Brown, you always got the feeling the hometown honors mattered most.

9th Street became James Brown Boulevard.

A life-size statue now sits on Broad Street in downtown Augusta.

And he was there when the Augusta/Richmond County Civic Center was renamed the James Brown Arena.

All that for a man who made it his mission to give back to the city that gave him his start.

In interview after interview, James Brown was always quick to mention God and Augusta...in that order.

And he gave back in other ways too.

At Thanksgiving, he put turkeys on the table for people would have gone without otherwise, and they never seemed to mind the long wait, in all sorts of weather, just to meet the man.

Christmas in Augusta would always find James Brown at the Imperial Theater. It's the same place where his band rehearsed. But on this day it was all about spreading the joy of Christmas in his annual toy giveaway.

That's exactly where we caught up with him on Friday, in what would turn out to be his last public interview.

On a personal note--and James always found a way to make it personal--we shared the same birthday. I'll always treasure the picture he gave me years ago. He signed it, "Happy Birthday. God bless."

James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, dead at the age of 73.