Up until this past year, I didn’t know much about James Brown other than that he was black, dead, the “Godfather of Soul,” and that there was a lot of controversy surrounding his Last Will & Testament and the dispersal of his assets. This past semester at Bucknell I took a class called Jazz, Rock, and Race, and although I learned a bit more about Brown’s music and biography, I was still curious to know more. So, I took this opportunity to look through the book The One: The Life and Music of James Brown by RJ Smith.
This book took an incredibly close look at the life of James Brown. So much so that the book begins by setting the stage of slave rebellions in the South in the 18th century, noting how the rhythm of drums was very significant in those rebellions, and how that rhythm remained in the spirit of the South for generations, all the way up through the rise of James Brown. The book covers Brown’s rough childhood of extreme poverty and growing up in his aunt’s prostitution house, his time as a young adult and aspiring musician, his role as a social activist during the Civil Rights Movement, all the way through his final days and death.
Although I only read fragments of the book, it’s clear that not only has RJ Smith done an incredible job as a researcher, but is also a talented writer. His style is very clear, and has endless anecdotes and examples that bring James Brown to life and capture all aspects of his character, both good and bad. I was planning on keeping this book just long enough to do the blog post, but I actually think I’m going to hang onto it for awhile.