“Whatever you may say about him, James Brown was one of the most influential people in the 21st century,” says Ellen Zisholtz, director of South Carolina State’s University’s I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium.
Brown, known as the “Godfather of Soul,” had a tremendous influence on the hip hop movement. He set the pace for costumes and entertainment for many other performers, including Elvis and Prince, she said. But he also stood for black pride and social justice, Zisholtz added.
The I.P. Stanback is recognizing Brown for all those things with an exhibit that will run through July 2015, she said.
The exhibit, ““The Influence of James Brown: His Imprint on Music, Dance, Style and Politics,” opens at 6 p.m. Friday with a reception featuring James Brown’s band, the JBs, with Cape Master Danny Ray as emcee, band leader Tyrone Jefferson on trombone, Joe Collier on trumpet and George “Spike” Nealy on percussion. Nealy is the assistant band director of S.C. State’s Marching 101.
Shirlene King, a former opening act for Brown, will also be performing.
The extensive exhibit includes hundreds of personal items belonging to Brown.
Dozens of pairs of shoes and boots, showy costumes, his travel hair dryer, curlers and makeup are on display. These items are a far cry from the possessions of a child who was kicked out of school because he didn’t have clothes to wear.
“He went to school in seventh grade, and they told him he couldn’t come anymore because he didn’t have the proper clothing,” Zisholtz said.
Brown was born into a very poor family, and his parents separated when he was very young.
“He had nobody to take care of him,” Zisholtz said.
Though Brown was not educated, he cared about education, she said.
He donated royalties of his song, “Don’t Be a Dropout,” to create dropout prevention programs and left funds to pay for sending children to school who couldn’t afford to go, she said.
Brown’s will created the “I Feel Good Inc. Trust” for scholarships for his grandchildren and disadvantaged children.
As a performer, he really cared about how he looked, Zisholtz said.
Photographs of Brown’s hair in curlers are also on display. He carried those pictures on the road with him so that hairstylists could see exactly how to fix his hair, Zisholtz said.
Brown once said, “Hair is the first thing and teeth the second ... a man got those two things, he’s got it all.”
Zisholtz said he was a humanitarian who greatly influenced the public and who was interested in many things.
She noted Brown was credited with saving Boston when Martin Luther King was killed.
“They expected a big riot that was starting in Boston, and he had a concert scheduled,” she said. The concert was almost called off, but Brown convinced them to let him do it, and it was played on television several times. He kept urging people to remain calm and call off the riot. As it turned out, people stayed at home and listened to him instead of being in the streets, Zisholtz said.
Brown was a friend of celebrities and national leaders from both political parties. He was also an entrepreneur and an amateur astronomer, Zisholtz said.
“He was a really weird person to understand,” she said. “For instance, one of his best friends was Strom Thurmond, who was a segregationist who filibustered against the Civil Rights Bill.”
Also on display are pieces of Brown’s furniture and other household items, pictures of his estate, early cuts of vinyl recordings, some of his awards and trophies, personal notes and letters, fan memorabilia and souvenirs he collected from all over the globe.
Zisholtz said she has boxes and boxes of Brown’s papers, ranging from court summons to traffic tickets to notes from fans.
“You have to realize one thing about James Brown,” she said. “He never threw anything out.”
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