James Brown Gets a Statue

The Godfather of Soul must feel good today. Singer James Brown now has his own bronze statue in his hometown: Augusta, Ga. Residents gathered Friday to witness the unveiling. Mayor Bob Young tells Jennifer Ludden about the celebration.

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(Soundbite of song)

Mr. JAMES BROWN: One, two; one, two, three, four.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

Finally, in Augusta, Georgia, singer James Brown, always larger than life, is being celebrated with a 600-pound bronze statue. The Godfather of Soul and native son of Augusta turns 72 this week. Townspeople gathered yesterday to witness the unveiling of the statue. Bob Young is the mayor of Augusta. He spearheaded the monument's creation, and he joins me now by phone.

Welcome.

Mayor BOB YOUNG (Augusta, Georgia): Hi, Jennifer. Good to be with you.

LUDDEN: I saw a photo of the statue. Mr. Brown is wearing a cape. It's slightly larger than life. He's holding a microphone. What was the real James Brown's reaction to his replica?

Mayor YOUNG: It was hard to tell immediately because he was wearing dark sunglasses. But I'm told by some of his associates that he was really overcome emotionally when he saw it, and there may have been a tear or two that welled up in his eyes.

LUDDEN: Well, now James Brown has had a controversial history with Augusta. He's not always been celebrated there, at least not by everyone. Tell me about his childhood there.

Mayor YOUNG: James Brown had a very rough upbringing. He came over here from Barnwell, South Carolina, and he lived with a relative. He lived on the streets a good bit. He shined shoes. He danced for nickels. He dropped out of school. He got into trouble, went to juvenile prison for a couple of years. But it seemed like he was really getting his life together because he got into music.

LUDDEN: When he was performing for money, it was on the streets surrounding where the statue is now?

Mayor YOUNG: Yes, that's correct. This is interesting. And he was saying yesterday in his remarks, he said that he would shine shoes for a nickel. And young people, who would only make a nickel when they did some work, would actually pay him 10 cents to hear him sing and to see him dance. And he thought that was amazing that they would take in so little yet spend so much to watch him entertain on the streets of Augusta.

LUDDEN: I understand that you used to be a deejay there in Augusta, and sometimes James Brown would stop by the studio?

Mayor YOUNG: He would. I was a disc jockey back in the mid-'60s. James Brown was a frequent visitor to Augusta. He would have sold-out shows at the city auditorium. And I worked the overnight shift, so after the concert, he would come by the radio station, and we would just talk for extended periods of time on the air and play a lot of extra James Brown music. And we really started to develop a much closer relationship through those late-night discussions on the radio. I have fond memories of those.

LUDDEN: Do you have a favorite James Brown song?

Mayor YOUNG: I like "It's a Man's World." It's got some great orchestration in it. I think we really hear a pure James Brown voice in that. It's just a marvelous song.

LUDDEN: I understand when you served in Vietnam, you had a different favorite song. Is that right?

Mayor YOUNG: Well, that's because "A Man's World" hadn't come out. This was back in the late '60s, early '70s. At the time, one of his songs was "Mother Popcorn," and I did some flying in helicopters over there, and you wear these helmets. And on the back of the helmet, it's painted `Mother Popcorn.' That was the call sign. And I still have the helmet, as a matter of fact.

LUDDEN: Could I ask you to go back to your days as a deejay there and introduce that song. I think we're going to go out on that.

Mayor YOUNG: On "Mother Popcorn"?

LUDDEN: Mm-hmm.

Mayor YOUNG: Boy, you put me on the spot, Jennifer. I haven't done this in 30 years now. There's a man from Augusta, Georgia. He's the Godfather of Soul. He's Mr. Dynamite. He's the hardest-working man in show business. He's Mr. Please, Please. He's the amazing Mr. James Brown, and he's got one of his all-time favorites for us: "Mother Popcorn."

(Soundbite of "Mother Popcorn")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Yeah! Yeah, yeah. Yeah! Yeah, yeah. Popcorn.

LUDDEN: Bob Young is the mayor of Augusta, Georgia.

Thanks for speaking with us.

Mr. YOUNG: Jennifer, thank you. It's been my pleasure.

(Soundbite of "Mother Popcorn")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Popcorn. Something about...

LUDDEN: And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

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