Clayton library planning James Brown celebration

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans


Say it loud!

James Brown is at the Clayton County Headquarters Library, and officials are proud.

Brown, well known as the "Godfather of Soul," and the "hardest-working man in show business," has taken up residence at the library this month, in the form of a display of memorabilia, on loan from one of his original back-up dancers, Tascha Houston.

A poster, featuring four images of Brown -- shouting while singing -- stands next to the display, and proclaims, He is back!

Brown died in 2006.

Well, sort of. One might argue that, at the very least, he could be back in spirit.

"She [Houston] actually came into the library, and was disappointed there was only one book [on Brown's life]," said Sherry Turner, the library's branch manager. "Then, she started talking about James Brown, and I said 'Oh, you're really passionate.' Well yes! Then, we found out [about] her story, and she said, 'You know, I have a lot of things' ... and she said, 'I would be glad to share that with the community.'

"I said, oh well, I've got May available, it's his birthday [he would have been 78 this year], let's just run with it, and so, that's how it began."

The display of memorabilia is a prelude to what is coming this week.

A full-scale celebration of the entertainer's life and work will be held on Tuesday, from 6 p.m., to 8 p.m., at the library, located at 865 Battle Creek Road, in Jonesboro.

The current display will take its final bow at the library after the celebration ends.

During the event, however, Turner plans to unveil eight new books, on the life of James Brown, that the library is adding to its permanent collection.

The branch manager said Houston will tell backstage stories about life on the road, performing with Brown, answer questions about the singer, and then, she will play some of his music, and show DVDs of some of his old performances.

"With celebrities, people always want to know all of the backstage stories about what these people were really like, so I think people are really going to enjoy this," Turner said.

During his lengthy, multi-decade career, Brown did just about everything, from announcing, "I Feel Good!," to proclaiming himself to be a "Sex Machine," to declaring, "I'm black -- and I'm proud!," and then, singing about, "Livin' in America."

Even now, four-and-a-half years after his death, people can still find entire videos, dedicated solely to showing his dance moves, on the social media web site, YouTube.

The memorabilia on display at the library includes old photographs of Houston and Brown; ticket stubs from some of his concerts; one of the singer's old 45 vinyl records, as well as one of his CDs; newspaper clippings; a wrapper from one of the "James Brown Cookeez;" various proclamations; concert promotional materials, and some of the attire Houston wore as one of Brown's dancers.

Turner said part of the allure of the exhibit is the fact that "we have a tremendous amount of interest in music, whether they be the old ones, who enjoyed his music, [or younger music fans]."

Jonesboro resident, Joan Fulks, said she thinks it's "wonderful" that the library has been featuring some James Brown memorabilia. She said she remembers seeing the soul singer in concert, in Boston, on the night Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed, hundreds of miles away, in Memphis, Tenn.

"I'm proud to say that I remember seeing James Brown in Boston," Fulks said. "During the concert, the news came out that Martin Luther King had been shot and killed, and he [Brown] tried to calm the audience. I just remember him being so calm, and the concert then went on as planned, afterwards."

And, as Tuesday approaches, Turner said library officials are excited about getting a chance to celebrate the life and music of James Brown.

One might even say, "Ow! ... they feel good!"