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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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 Sun Ra’s was the strangest performance I had ever seen,

sort of neo-African, cosmic mystery, much stranger and definitely

more intriguing than George Clinton's Parliament



 CDs by Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Blacknuss  /  Volunteered Slavery  / Bright Moments  / Brotherman in the Fatherland The Inflated Tear

Music Video: Rahsaan Roland Kirk 

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Sun Ra Music CDs

Space Is the Place  (1972)  /  Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy/Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (1992)

Lanquidity (2000)  /  Angels & Demons at Play/The Nubians of Plutonia  (1956, 1993)  / The Magic City  (1965; 1993) 

 Super Sonic Jazz  (1956; 1992)  / Jazz in Silhouette: Music (1958, 1992)  / The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1  (1965, 1999)

/ When Angels Speak of Love  (2000)  / Nuclear War  (1982, 2001)  /  Visits Planet Earth/Interstellar Low Ways (1956, 1992)

Sunrise in Different Dimensions  (1980, 2007)  / Atlantis (1967, 1993)

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CDs by James Brown

Live at the Apollo  /  Messing with the Blues / 20 All-time Greatest Hits Star Time  / 50th Anniversary Collection / Foundations of Funk

The PayBack  /  Say It Live and Loud

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Long Live the Kings of Black Entertainment

James Brown Rashaan Roland Kirk Sun Ra


By Rudolph Lewis


James Brown's dramatic death Xmas morning caused me to reconsider his impact on my life. He was a childhood icon that later became a bit tarnished. One might say that outside of my family church his was the first dramatic performance I experienced. That was at the Royal Theatre in Baltimore on Pennsylvania Avenue, then the Negro entertainment district, before the 1968 post- MLK assassination riots.

I was twelve, maybe fourteen years old up from the countryside visiting my mother for the summer when she lived in Cherry Hill. The exact time is a bit vague, though I suspect that it was before I graduated from high school in 1965. But by that time, I think  I had listened to jukebox  45s of “Try Me” (1959), “Think” (1960), “Bewildered” (1961), maybe even “Lost Someone” and “Night Train” (both issued in 1962). But it was a great troupe of stars that came on before. JB closed the program with his first hit. But it was the way he performed rather than sang “Please, Please” (1956) that ever stands out in memory and of course his dancing—his quick feet and the splits and his seemingly tireless energy, as in his performance of "Night Train."

In those days on the chitlin circuit, stage shows would begin on maybe Wednesdays and extend until Friday night. There would be two performances a day—a matinee in the afternoon and then an 8 o'clock show. On Fridays, there would be three performances, ending with a midnight show. I saw James Brown for the matinee and the 8 o'clock show.

Back in those days, one could go into a theater for a movie or a live performance and stay all day, as long as one remained in the building. I was too young for the midnight show.

As I said, the only theatre I had seen to that point occurred in a black Baptist church, in my early days under the pastorate of Reverend General Ruffin, a very dark, short stout man, very handsome and very demanding morally. I was a childish believer, then. With Ruffin, unlike the preacher who replaced him, there was no silliness in the pulpit. He was thoroughly convincing in bringing God into our presence.

James Brown did not necessarily bring God into our presence at the Royal, but he certainly brought a wholly convincing improvisational spirit into our presence. As thrilling as any classic Negro sermon. I was thoroughly convinced by his “Please, Please” performance and when I saw it a second time I was surprised that it was such a precise copy of the performance that had been given hours ago, with the same energy and with the same passion. Still it was more than just an act, though it caused me to reflect on Reverend Ruffin's performance in the pulpit. In both cases it was more than just spirit possession but consummate skill and planning and stunning execution.

It was years later as an adult that I saw a performance that rivaled JB's onstage presence. Before I go on I must say, Brown's late sixties performances and onward from "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (1965) to "Say it Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" (1968) to  "Sex Machine" (1970 disco) did little for me. They were memorable indeed. But I had become politically aware then and though James' funk was the in thing, he had gotten a little "Stoned To The Bone" (1974) for my taste. Of course, he always remained Mr. Dynamite, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business and however difficult I found him, I couldn't help from loving and admiring him because he was always running to stay ahead of what everybody else was doing or trying to do and he was successful in doing so.

That other performance occurred on Charles Street near North Avenue at a program of the Left Bank Jazz Society, which presented its programs cabaret style, BYOB. It was Rahsaan  Roland Kirk, the blind jazzman who played multiple instruments all at once. Like Brown he came off as a supernatural force. His circular breathing (ballooning jaws), which he claims to have learned from the Australian aborigines, is a wonder that gives the impression of continuous dynamic energy, much like Brown’s dancing and footwork  And his costumes behind huge black sun glasses with bags of instruments, two/three horns in his mouth at once and he's blowing and fingering. And you spacing and dancing and the whole world is filled with beautiful sounds inspired by Rashann.

At the Left Bank program, Rashann's band came back from a break and Ra announced that he was told that his group had to quit the stage for a rock n roll band. So Rashaan and his band broke out into "Volunteer Slavery." They rocked it and rolled it and brought the house down. Rahsaan had folks dancing on the tables, lined up before the stage snorting coke, and the show ended with him breaking up chairs on stage. . . . He was never invited back to Baltimore. His stage presence was too dynamic, too unpredictable.

The other greatest performer was Sun Ra, again, presented by the Left Bank Jazz Society. But this time at Coppin State College Auditorium. I had listened to Sun Ra's records before I saw the performance, his heliocentric worlds. I think he did Baraka’s Black Mass. Ra’s was the strangest performance I had ever seen, sort of neo-African, cosmic mystery, much stranger and definitely more intriguing than George Clinton's Parliament. But Ra's performance at Coppin did not possess the magic as I had imagined it. The problem I think was the setting—the college auditorium. It was too huge and too much light and open space. The same problem with stage shows at the Civic Center. There was a problem with intimacy.

There are film clips however that are much more successful in capturing Sun Ra  as performer. In these he is thoroughly convincing. It comes off as more than Act. The man plays such wild music but he floats around quiet and self-possessed"destination unknown." Sun Ra was on a different plane than anyone on Planet Earth. In capes and Egyptian headdress I wouldn't be surprised if he visited us sometime soon.

I suspect that the best ancient dramatic performances occurred after dark or in the twilight with artificial light (all kinds), instrumental music, human voices, movement (to and fro), and costumes (all colors). All of these performances were on the borderline of the secular and the sacred, of reality and myth, the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Strangely the first drama as drama I actually saw was a play by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), not in a theatre but in a church just off Fremont Avenue and Edmondson Avenue in Baltimore. That was probably in early 1968. Stokely Carmichael, as well as LeRoi and his group, was there. All of these were in what Baraka calls the tradition of African American entertainment. Words cannot fully capture what it is that these performers and performances achieved and the impact that they had/have on consciousness.

One must experience JB, Rashann, and Sun Ra directly to  appreciate truly the uniqueness and the wonder of their performances. There are not words sufficient to describe the impact they had/have. They each had their own unique way of transporting us from the doldrums of our workaday worlds, from soulful depression, from fragmentation and alienation to thrilling heights of elation, fulfillment, and wholeness. In seeing them at work, one cannot help but smile in somewhat unbelief at what is being observed. . . . Long live the messengers of the gods!

Read also Jamie Walker's Tribute   (The Royal Theatre image above is from a painting by Kaki)

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James Brown Interview 1978

Brown talks about the difficulties of his early life. He only went to school through 7th grade but he says the lack of education also ensured that he would learn about life through experience. "I know the whole thing and I'm glad I know it," he says. "I have a 7th grade education formally but a doctor's degree in the street. I know what it's about."
Before his musical success, he says, he worked at a lot of hard, low-paying jobs, such as shining shoes and picking cotton. But at the time interview, he owned three radio stations and was producing his own syndicated television show. Brown startles Scott by announcing it is his 45th birthday, rising from his chair and launching into a series of dance moves that included dropping to his knees and popping back up to his feet. Scott asks how Brown can keep doing that kind of thing at his age.Matrix 

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James Joseph Brown, Jr. (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was an American singer and entertainer. Eventually referred to as "The Godfather of Soul", Brown started singing in church groups and worked his way up. He has been recognized as one of the most influential figures in the 20th century popular music and was renowned for his vocals and feverish dancing. He was also called "the hardest working man in show business" As a prolific singer, songwriter, dancer and bandleader, Brown was a pivotal force in the music industry. He left his mark on numerous artists. Brown's music also left its mark on the rhythms of African popular music, such as afrobeat, jùjú and mbalax, and provided a template for go-go musicWikipedia

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Rahsaan Roland Kirk on YouTube

Volunteered Slavery  / Bright Moments, part 1  / Bright Moments, part 2

Nightmusic / I Say A Little Prayer / Balm in Gilead  / Buddy Guy, Roland Kirk, and Jack Bruce

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RRahsaan Roland Kirk (August 7, 1935 – December 5, 1977) was an American jazz multi-instrumentalist who played tenor saxophone, flute and many other instruments. He was renowned for his onstage vitality, during which virtuoso improvisation was accompanied by comic banter, political ranting, and the ability to play several instruments simultaneously. Kirk was born Ronald Theodore Kirk  in Columbus, Ohio, but felt compelled by a dream to transpose two letters in his first name to make Roland. He became blind at an early age as a result of poor medical treatment. In 1970, Kirk added "Rahsaan" to his name after hearing it in a dream. Wikipedia

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James Brown—Soul Brother Number One 1 /   James Brown—Soul Brother Number One 2

James Brown—Soul Brother Number One 3  / James Brown—Soul Brother Number One 4

The Shining
Words: Chairman Mao

Originally published in Scratch, March/April 2007.

In the early hours of Christmas Day 2006 James Brown, weak from pneumonia and suffering congestive heart failure, turned to his long-time friend and manager Charles Bobbit and said simply, “I’m going to leave here tonight.” After making his peace with the Creator, the Godfather of Soul lay back in his Atlanta hospital bed one final time, passing on to a better place not of this earth.

Music fans of the world mourned the passing of a legend. James Brown, it had seemed to many of us, was bigger than life, someone that no hardship, obstacle, or setback—be it growing up in the Jim Crow South, incarceration, band mutinies, or changing popular musical tastes—could hold back. We of the hip-hop generation, of course, felt a great kinship with James for having helped him overcome the latter. During the better part of the late ’70s and early ’80s when Black radio turned its collective back on JB, essentially writing off Soul Brother #1 as Soul Brother # Done, South Bronx selectors kept his heaviest beats in rotation—one break and two copies at a time—and commemorated his birthday with annual Zulu Nation throwdowns. By the mid-’80s, when producer Marley Marl discovered the powers of digital sampling (and soon after the super-powers of sampling James Brown and his productions) the Godfather was once again back and, to quote a line from his own “Coldblooded,” hipper than hip. He was hip-hop.

Rap cats took great pride in taking credit for the restoration of his career (lest we forget Daddy-O’s oft-quoted lyric from Stetsasonic’s “Talkin’ All That Jazz”—“Tell the truth James Brown was old/ ’Til Eric and Ra came out with ‘I [Know You] Got Soul’”). But the truth of the matter was it was James who’d blessed us by laying down the true blueprint of hip-hop (sorry, Kris; sorry, ’Hov) with the pioneering rhythm method of his funk recordings of the late ’60s and early ’70s. On ground-breaking groove-centric workouts and extended jams like “Soul Power,” “Funky Drummer,” “Escape-Ism,” “Make It Funky,” “Mind Power,” “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” the almighty “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose,” and countless others, traditional song structure was handed its walking papers, replaced by funk-drenched vamps repeated to the edge of panic before temporary relief arrived in the form of a bridge every now and then.

This was rhythm for rhythm’s sake, a celebration of beats so bad (meaning good) that the self-dubbed Minister of New New (two times!) Super Heavy Funk could even cease singing, drop entire songs of spoken jewels, or have his prodigious band-members shout out their hometowns and still keep the party live. This was the future—the basis of not just hip-hop, but every other genre of modern club or dance music now in existence. James himself knew it; it just took the rest of us a while to catch up to him.

No such uncertainty existed on Thursday, December 28th, 2006 when blocks upon blocks of James Brown fans withstood several hours waiting on line in the winter chill to see our musical guiding light grace the stage of Harlem USA’s Apollo Theater one last time, and say goodbye and thank you. We represented different generations; from old timers who’d seen the Godfather perform frequently over the years; to young children—there at the behest of their parents – for whom hearing “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” sung in unison by a crowd of strangers the same complexion as theirs induced an epiphany that was priceless to witness. Our common bond was undeniable: the soundtrack to our lives would be entirely unimaginable without James Brown.

The King is dead; long live the King. James Brown Forever. R.I.P.—EgoTripLand

Godfather Lives Through: Hip-Hop’s Top 25 James Brown Sampled Records

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Mockingbirds at Jerusalem (poetry Manuscript)

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#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. Lisa Adkins, University of London

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My First Coup d'Etat

And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa

By John Dramani Mahama

Though the colonies of sub-Saharan Africa began to claim independence in the late 1950s and ’60s, autocratic and capricious leadership soon caused initial hope to fade, and Africa descended into its “lost decades,” a period of stagnation and despondency from which much of the continent has yet to recover. Mahama, vice president of the Republic of Ghana, grew up alongside his nascent country and experienced this roller-coaster of fortunes. In this memoir, Mahama, the son of a member of parliament, recounts how affairs of state became real in his young mind on the day in 1966 when no one came to collect him from boarding school—the government had been overthrown, his father arrested, and his house confiscated. In fluid, unpretentious style, Mahama unspools Ghana’s recent history via entertaining and enlightening personal anecdotes: spying on his uncle impersonating a deity in order to cajole offerings of soup from the villagers hints at the power of religion; discussions with his schoolmates about confronting a bully form the nucleus of his political awakening.

As he writes: “The key to Africa’s survival has always been . . . in the story of its people, the paradoxical simplicity and complexity of our lives.” The book draws to a close as the author’s professional life begins. Publishers Weekly

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Say it Loud: Poems about James Brown

Edited by Michael Oatman and Mary Weems

Preface by Lamont B. Steptoe

This anthology is a tribute in poems to James Brown and includes work by over 30 poets including Amiri Baraka, Emotion Brown, Katie Daley, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Kelly A. Harris, Tony Medina, Ayodele Nzinga, Michael Oatman, Michelle Rankins, Patricia Smith, Lamont B. Steptoe, George Wallace and Mary Weems.

"On May  3, 1933, James Joseph Brown was born in Barnwell, South Carolina in the heart of Jim Crow America. On December 25, 2006, JB, the hardest working man in show business passed on. These poems celebrate, memorialize and speak to the legacy of the Godfather of Soul. They share their memories from childhood to adulthood of the man who was influenced by such musical giants as Little Richard, but who laid the physical and musical steps for artists such as Michael Jackson and many current Rap and Hip Hop musicians today."Adah Ward-Randolph

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)






posted 27 December 2006




Home  Music  Musicians   Tributes Obituaries Remembrances

Related files:   James Brown Philosophizing    James Brown Messing with the Blues  Long Live the Kings of Black Entertainment   Say it Loud: Poems about James Brown   

The Man Who Named A People (Glen Ford)  Duet for The Godfather (Wordslanger)  Climbing Malcolm's Ladder  The Best of Rahsaan  Roland Kirk  

Rahsaan Dead at Forty-One  Bio-Chronology of Sun Ra   New School Arkestra