Some would say that The Godfather of Soul loved Augusta, more than Augusta loved him. Some would use the old adage that a prophet is never honored in his hometown the way he should be to sum up James Brown's relationship with the city of Augusta. These naysayers would point to the empty Civic Center in May when JB would come for his annual Birthday celebrations. They would point to those people in the community (You know who you are!!) who disparaged JB every chance they got, when he was incarcerated and had legal troubles. Yes, I have to admit, that as a resident of Augusta since 1991, I have constantly heard the negative rumblings about Soul Brother #1. I am happy to say that I was never one of those people. Sure, I never cast a blind eye to what JB did in the past, but I focused on the key word: "the past."
Every time an honor was pitched for James Brown, you had those who would speak out against it because of the many failings of James Brown. Didn't he beat his wife? Doesn't he use drugs? Didn't he go to jail? These were some of the excuses that people would use to shoot down JB honors. Despite all of the negativity that Augusta is sometimes know for, James Brown never moved away to Hollywood, NYC, or Europe. He stayed right across the Savannah River in good ole' Beech Island, S.C. In fact, he loved Augusta and fought through all the dark clouds cast upon him and was rewarded in the process.
On Nov. 11th, 1993, 9th Street in Augusta was changed to James Brown Blvd. This was not just another street. We all know how JB felt about kids getting an education. I am sure that he was delighted to know that his Blvd contained the Main Board of Education and the Main Library branch!!! Nearly a year before JB died, he was honored with a statue in the heart of Downtown Augusta overlooking the Augusta Commons. Although people have complained about the size of the statue and it not being on a pedestal, it is in a very prominent place, on the second widest street in America (Broad St.). Also, four months before JB died, he was able to have the Augusta Richmond County Civic Center be named in his honor. The official name of the arena is the James Brown Arena. Imagine the tragedy if they would have waited to bestow that honor after his death.
James Brown has also had his legacy continue after his death. He was going to be given an honorary degree from Paine College when he was alive, but instead was posthumously awarded this honor at his public funeral at the JB Arena. His Turkey and Toy giveaway are still going strong in his name. And his daughter Deanna Brown-Thomas has the J.A.M.P., which is a music academy that is really making a difference in the lives of local kids. Later on this year, the new James Brown stamp will be revealed. (Let's hope it looks better than the Jimi Hendrix stamp.) Oh, I almost forgot, there is a new JB movie coming out called "Get on Up."
Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that JB is getting a biopic about his life. I really wished that they would have done it when he was still alive like they did with Ray Charles. In fact, the movie Ray, is the measuring stick for which all biopics are pitted against. As unfair as that sounds, I expect nothing less when it comes to the story of James Brown. I don't mean to pit Ray Charles against James Brown, but JB's story is a more compelling one. I had high hopes when I learned that Spike Lee would be directing the James Brown movie. My hopes were even higher when I learned that Spike was favorable to shooting the movie here in Augusta, GA (CSRA). Just like the film Ray, many were hoping that Spike Lee could do for the James Brown biopic what he did for hie Malcolm X movie. Besides, I know that James Brown would have approved of his hometown being the site of his movie. We are talking about a man who mentioned Augusta, GA in his songs, right along with major U.S. cities (listen to Night Train). Many people who know nothing of the Masters golf tournament know Augusta solely because of James Brown. That's how much pride he had for his city.
Sad to say, neither Spike Lee or the city of Augusta will play a huge role in the upcoming movie Get on Up. After Mick Jagger got the rights, director Tate Taylor was brought on board. When they brought Tate Taylor in, he pretty much looked out for his own by shooting the movie entirely in Jackson, Mississippi, where he is a native. If James Brown were alive, he would have looked out for his own, by making sure the movie was shot here in the Augusta/CSRA area. Now that the trailers with Chadwick Boseman playing James Brown have surfaced on the internet, I have to say that I'm a bit skeptical, but will hold my judgement until after viewing the film. The only question I have now is: Will Augusta get a Red Carpet premiere of Get On Up? Can the Imperial, Regal 20, or Maxwell Theater be utilized? This would be a great way to get up, get into it, and get the city of Augusta fully involved in JB's major motion picture. Or is this The Big Payback, for all those critics and haters that have hounded JB over the years? I hope not. But if Augusta is not deeply involved in some way, it will leave me Bewildered!! So in the immortal words of Mr. Dynamite: Please, Please, Please allow the city of Augusta to be a major part of another milestone in the legacy of James Brown. For all that he gave to the city of Augusta, he would have wanted Georgialina heavily involved.