Daughter Strives to Keep Singer's Legacy Intact
Like anyone else, James Brown had a dark side.
"No one is getting up every day and smelling like roses," said Deanna Brown Thomas, the late Godfather of soul's daughter.
By dark side, Brown Thomas laughingly referred to the many children the soul legend fathered and how difficult it was even for her to recall everyone's age.
Collectively, Brown's family is working diligently to preserve his legacy, one that is unparalleled in the world of music and entertainment.
"Look at those he influenced. The Maceo Parkers, Fred Wesleys, George Clintons," Brown Thomas said. "I believe it is important to remember the hard work dad put in and the fact that he is so revered for his work, is so remarkable."
The family recently agreed to a deal with Imagine Entertainment and rock legend Mick Jagger to create a biopic about Brown. "I believe the movie is going to be one of those films to impact future generations because dad touched so many people," Brown Thomas said.
"His music has been a beacon to people all over the world," she said.
James Brown was born in South Carolina on May 3, 1933. By the age of four, Brown's parents had separated and sent him to Augusta, Ga., to live with other family members during the Great Depression. Brown left school after the 7th grade to help support the family.
In 1955, Brown joined "The Gospel Starlighters," a group that eventually was renamed "The Famous Flames." The group moved to Macon, Ga., where they eventually opened for such legends as B.B. King and Ray Charles. Ultimately, the group would go on to record the hit song, "Please, Please, Please," which became Brown's first big single.
A slew of hits would follow, including songs like "Try Me," "Night Train," "Papa's Gotta Brand New Bag," and so many others that cemented Brown as the "hardest working man in show business." Brown died on Dec. 25, 2006.
He left behind a legacy that included songs such as "Sex Machine," "Say it Loud, (I'm Black and I'm Proud)," "The Big Payback," and "It's a Man's Man's World." Brown also proved to be the inspiration for such superstars as Prince, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, and others.
His music has been sampled more times than any other artist and his estate is still bombarded with use requests from rap and music artists like Will Smith.
The magnitude of her father's impact on popular culture eventually struck Brown Thomas while she was attending school at Towson State University in Towson, Md., she said.
"I was reading the encyclopedia and I came across dad. But, when I saw all of us, all of his children mentioned, it really hit me how important dad was," she said.
Brown Thomas, 44, was born in Queens, N.Y. She performed on stage with her famous father several times, but said some of her fondest memories were of taking limousine rides into poor areas with her dad. "We'd go into these areas and he'd see guys on the streets, on skid row, and he'd get out and pass out $50 to each person and say, 'Brother, this is no way to live, take this and clean yourself up and get something to eat,'" Brown Thomas said.
The fact that it was James Brown appeared to mean even more than the money, she said. "It seemed to pick these people up in ways you couldn't imagine," Brown Thomas said. "That was dad, though, a big heart. Here is a man with a 7th grade education, but he was able to talk to people at all levels and do so effectively," she said.
An entrepreneur, Brown Thomas heads the Brown Family Children Foundation whose mission is to continue her father's legacy of charitable giving.
The foundation targets children in poor communities across the nation for music initiatives that provide instruments and mentorship programs. Through the foundation, Brown Thomas has also been able to continue her father's annual turkey and toy giveaway in Augusta, Ga.
"My father's story is an American story, not just an African-American one," Brown Thomas said. "He had a dream like any other young child and he went through some tough times because he was poor. But, it is important for us to keep his legacy and share the richness of his life."