ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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


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.



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."From the introduction by Adah Ward-Randolph

*   *   *   *   *

Say It Loud!: Poems about James Brown is endemic of the man himself—it is the embodiment of funk and hardcore unbridled soul—on ice, on fire, and on the page! No other anthology that I know of raises the stakes on the persona cum myth that this iconoclastic treatment of JB the man and the icon does with a myriad of voices, visions, perspectives and platitudes of attitudes. It is poetry to the umpteenth power. It is Black. It is Loud. It is Proud. And Free—just like JB—in full gleaming pompadour holy ghostin’ call & response yelp—rockin’ a stage split, waiting for Maceo to bring his cape—holding onto the mic for dear life!—Tony Medina 

I stood on Peachtree Street in Atlanta while James Brown received his car from a valet at the Hyatt Regency, left a generous tip, made a sharp illegal turn, and sped straight toward trouble in South Carolina. And he did it all with flair for a fan. That was quintessential JB for me, and this inspiring collection of poems captures the essence of such a moment. These poets draw the fullness of Brown in lyrical detail. The poems reflect the roundness of Brown’s musical magic, bathe in ‘buked and scorned qualities, nod to demons, see both Mr. Dynamite and rubble, and celebrate triumphs of the spirit. A tremendous tribute.—Keith Gilyard

*   *   *   *   *

Preface: Say It Loud Anthology

Preface by Lamont B. Steptoe

I didn’t learn to dance until about the fifth grade when a childhood friend—a girl whose older brother was a playmate and whose mother was a Den Mother for my cub scout pack—taught me how to do the Pony to the rhythm and blues of Major Lance.  Thus began my foray into moving my body to Black secular music which was pretty much banned in my momma’s house.  By the time James Brown’s music entered my life I was back in college after a stint in Vietnam, drinking and grooving to a funk that seemed essential to my Blackness.  Although, I grew up during the era when Black men were wearing conks—my sister had a boyfriend whose visits could be counted by the grease stains left on the flowered wallpaper behind the couch—I never was inspired to subject myself to any such tortuous  process, not that my mother would have allowed it anyway!

Foremost in my mind is an image of James Brown arriving to perform in some stadium somewhere in America by helicopter, the camera showing the approaching flyspeck which grew larger and larger until it was discernible as such landing on a field where James Brown emerged in a three piece suit—had to be sharkskin—ran up the stairs of the arena to join his band where he fielded his classic moves including going down on his knees and having his cape thrown over shoulders, then arising to get even funkier, a lock of his process falling over his eyes while his face shimmered in sweat.  Concluding the set, he then ran back down the stairs of the stadium to his waiting helicopter that he entered only to be whisked away into the twilight. 

This sequence forever engraved in my heart the consummate  showman that JB was . . .I  recall saying outloud to myself “My man is badddd. . . .” 

Brown’s soulful funk freed up the grittiness of the Black Experience in my nerdic and overly intellectual cosmos that I had nurtured across the years in my attempt to grasp the “brass ring” of American acceptability.  A party wasn’t a party without  some of James Brown’s lyrics and rhythms to make the walls sweat and the air fetid with the funk of partying Black folks.  Brown was essential as cornbread and greens pigs feet and moonshine! His rhythms could make the most staid Ivy League Negro turn primitive and remember his roots.  Across the years, I made a mental note to try and catch him LIVE if I could but unfortunately, I never did. 

My loss! Wax, tv, tapes and CDs would be as close as I would come but the Godfather of Soul was like a living Black Bible that you had to have somewhere in the house.  After  his arrest in Georgia for his altercation with the cops, I remembered musing, ”They got the Godfather of Soul in prison as if life had become a Gothic movie and “they” were extracting some “essential  substance” from his being to use against Black folks!

So it is with pleasure and a sense of honor that I offer this preface as a way of remembrance for this Soul Brother Number One to join with the words of Mary E. Weems, Michael Oatman, Amiri Baraka, Emotion Brown, Askhari, Patricia Smith, George Wallace (not THAT ONE!), Williams Evans 111, Ayodele Nzinga, Reginald Lockett, Tony Medina and Thomas Sayers Ellis in praising this sonic Black God of rhythmic splendor “with a growl so shake and shudder deep” as Patricia Smith says in her poem or “feet sliding sideways out of European shackles” as Evans lays out in his piece.  Emotion Brown calls him “the mold for Michael Jackson’s feet.” 

So it goes in this tome that lifts up out of the darkness of our days a jubilant shout of appreciation for this Saint of Soul that moved us, inspired us, infused us with an energy of pride and stride and who even now in death “a Superman, face of a rhythm—driven fallen from his orbit man . . . ”will continue to do so.  As Mary Weems says “on wings sends love South—with some skin” who in the continuum will be on “the dance floor a century from now” according to Nzinga “soul don’t die it multiplies.” 

So as we ride “night trains of endless grooves” with the conductor Reginald Lockett through “hellish crossroads of Black genius” as Ellis would say throwing “a cleft note in honkey tonk” as Medina would say, let us celebrate this “priest of gold on Oceans of Yea-ah Oceans of Yea-ah. . . . In sweet Black Angelic Boogaloosence . . .” scripture according to Amiri Baraka!

Lamont B. Steptoe (born 1949 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), founder of Whirlwind Press and winner of the American Book Award,  is an American poet, photographer, and publisher. His books include  A Long Movie of Shadows Crowns and Halos, Uncle's South China Sea Blue Nightmare, Leafdrift (edited), and Mad Minute.

*   *   *   *   *

The first time I ever heard the words Black and Proud uttered at the same time, they came from the old radio mama kept on top of the refrigerator in our kitchen. . . . This anthology is the result of over two years of work with my friend, and fellow poet/playwright Michael Oatman, as well as an introduction written by my friend, and fellow scholar, African American historian, Adah Ward RandolphEditor Mary Weems

James Brown was a revelation who not only contributed to black music, but ultimately helped to guide its path. . . . Without James Brown, I am not sure that you have a Michael Jackson, who was an unapologetic fan and mimicked James Brown as a youngster as he was developing his own styleEditor Michael Oatman

The poems speak to this experience and the power we gained from the music and the man who sang about self-determination. . . . JB may have been the hardest “working man” in show business, but it was because he wanted control of his work and performances.Historian Adah Ward-Randolph

If Elvis Presley is King, Who is James Brown God?”Amiri Baraka

*   *   *   *   *

JB Endorses Obama

                By Rudolph Lewis


A leap year month full white moon wanes

behind black clouds. In darkness rain falls

It's a mind-winter weariness. The cosmos

wrings out a cool spring shower while we

wait for Texas to speak her mind, March 4.

If James Brown was still with us, he'd cry

out in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio:

"Yeah, alright. Alright? Yes, we can! Yes, we

can! Say it loud! Obama is doing his thing!

We don't want no mess! Listen when he

plays his solo: there ain't no dust. His folks

are on the corner, on the subway, at kitchen

tables sweating up a new day. Looka here!

Ain't it funky now? Looka here. Man, I sure

feel good. He's scoring hits. So we gotta put

on our glad rags. Vote Obama and do our do."

Get down JB. Hillary screams. She can't

help herself. Water drops drip from eaves.

*   *   *   *   *

Kwansaba for James Brown

                                  By Mary E. Weems


James Brown brought God some funk cologne

made his head tilt ace deuce, hair

fried, dyed, laid to the side, even

his angels wanted hats with chains, capes

a chance to make Maceo hit it!

At night brother Brown writes freedom! on

wings sends love South—with some skin.

Say It Loud!: Poems about James Brown. Edited by: Mary E. Weems, and Thomas Sayers Ellis. We grew up on James Brown’s hit me! When he danced every young Black man wanted to move, groove and look like him. Mr. Brown wasn’t called the hardest workingman in show business because he wasn’t. Experiencing a James Brown show was like getting your favourite soul food twice, plus desert. His songs, like black power fists you could be proud of and move to at the same time.  When Mr. Brown sang make it funky we sweated even in the wintertime.  Losing him was like losing somebody in our family.

Mary E. Weems, Ph.D. is an accomplished poet, playwright, author, editor, performer, motivational speaker, and imagination-intellect theorist. Weems has been widely published in journals, anthologies, and several books including Public Education and the Imagination-Intellect: I Speak from the Wound in My Mouth (Lang, 2003), developed from her dissertation which argues for imagination-intellectual development as the primary goal of public education. She won the Wick Chapbook Award for her collection in 1996, and in 1997 her play Another Way to Dance won the Chilcote award for The Most Innovative Play by an Ohio Playwright. Her most recent chapbook Tampon Class (Pavement Saw Press, 2005) is in its second printing. Mary Weems currently teaches in the English and Education departments at John Carroll University, and works as a language-artist-scholar in k-12 classrooms, university settings and other venues through her business Bringing Words to Life.

Mary Weems is the eldest daughter of four, the mama of one daughter, Michelle E. Weems, and the blessed-to-be-with-him-wife/partner of James Amie. Proud to have been raised by her mama, and to be from a poor, working-class background, Mary started writing poems when she was thirteen to learn to love herself. This took a while. Since then, her creative spirit-eye has turned more and more outward to include her take on the African-American experience from a personal and political perspective as well as the universal complexities of being a woman and anyone alive in the world. Mary E. Weems Table

*   *   *   *   *

James Brown—Greatest Ever Dancing  /  James Brown—Funky President (People It's Bad)

 James Brown—I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing  / James Brown—Talking Loud and Saying Nothing

James Brown Ain't It Funky Now

*   *   *   *   *

For those of us who grew up in the 60s in the lonely backwoods of the segregated South we need only the records and CDs of JB's music to know the man and his significance. His rhythms and moods, film clips, and our memories only are vessels sufficient to capture the impact of his artistry in emotionally sustaining several generations. Ishmael has said “writin is fightin.” For James Brown, meshing/clashing rhythms, making the feet, the hips move, dazzling the imagination—a hardworking and sincere performance was/is fightin, the good fight. I can live with that, and so will those who love his work.

Brown’s influence on contemporary music entertainment is only one aspect of Ishmael’s review. Ishmael raises the perennial question of what is “success” for the black artist—writer, musician, visual artist—and concludes: “Attracting white paying customers to your books, theater or music, of course, meant success. The other route was to be cited by a white musician or critic as having influenced a white musician.” Investors making big returns on black work and resources ain't news.

Nevertheless, it is phenomenal indeed that semi-literate Negro peasants terrorized under Jim Crow could develop an infectious music form and content that foster “international good will toward the United States.” This cultural influence, however, could occur only in conjunction with the sway of the global US economic and military penetration into every dark corner on the planet with the latest information technology. In this market-oriented world of efficiency, black talent gains privileges and benefits even if their cultural forms originated among the marginal. Like hip-hop.Climbing Malcolm's Ladder 

*   *   *   *   *

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

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#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

*   *   *   *   *

The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

*   *   *   *   *

The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

*   *   *   *   *

The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems

By Robert Hass

The Apple Trees at Olema includes work from Robert Hass's first five books—Field Guide, Praise, Human Wishes, Sun Under Wood, and Time and Materials—as well as a substantial gathering of new poems, including a suite of elegies, a series of poems in the form of notebook musings on the nature of storytelling, a suite of summer lyrics, and two experiments in pure narrative that meditate on personal relations in a violent world and read like small, luminous novellas. From the beginning, his poems have seemed entirely his own: a complex hybrid of the lyric line, with an unwavering fidelity to human and nonhuman nature, and formal variety and surprise, and a syntax capable of thinking through difficult things in ways that are both perfectly ordinary and really unusual. Over the years, he has added to these qualities a range and a formal restlessness that seem to come from a skeptical turn of mind, an acute sense of the artifice of the poem and of the complexity of the world of lived experience that a poem tries to apprehend. Hass's work is grounded in the beauty of the physical world. His familiar landscapes—San Francisco, the northern California coast, the Sierra high country—are vividly alive in his work. His themes include art, the natural world, desire, family life, the life between lovers, the violence of history, and the power and inherent limitations of language. He is a poet who is trying to say, as fully as he can, what it is like to be alive in his place and time.

*   *   *   *   *

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)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

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 / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

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







posted 6 February 2012




Home  Music  Musicians   Tributes Obituaries Remembrances

Related files:   James Brown Philosophizing    James Brown Messing with the Blues   Long Live the Kings of Black Entertainment  Climbing Malcolm's Ladder 

The Man Who Named A People (Glen Ford)  Duet for The Godfather (Wordslanger)  The Best of Rahsaan  Roland Kirk   Rahsaan Dead at Forty-One 

Bio-Chronology of Sun Ra   New School Arkestra