Relatives Consider James Brown Museum The adult children of singer James Brown may turn his home into a museum and place his body in a mausoleum on the property. But is the town of Beech Island, S.C., ready for a Graceland-style tourist attraction?
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Relatives Consider James Brown Museum

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Relatives Consider James Brown Museum

Relatives Consider James Brown Museum

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY. It could be the soul music equivalent of Graceland. The children of James Brown are thinking about building a museum and mausoleum for the late singer in his South Carolina home. This kind of tourist attraction would have a tremendous impact on the tiny town of Beech Island. From Beech Island Joshua Levs reports.

JOSHUA LEVS: To imagine the potential impact of a James Brown museum, you have to understand how tiny Beech Island, South Carolina is.

Ms. JACKIE BARTLEY (President, Beech Island Historical Society): We lost our post office. We almost lost our bank, but everybody got up in arms about that so we still got our bank.

LEVS: Jackie Bartley is president of the town's historical society.

Ms. BARTLEY: We don't have like stores like Wal-Mart or anything. We just now got a Dollar General or a Dollar Store, whatever you want to call it. So that's our Wal-Mart.

LEVS: It's not an island, by the way, and beech is spelled with two E's. like most people here Jackie Bartley did not know James Brown. She says it was kind of nice having a famous person around, though his run-ins with the police sometimes drew embarrassing attention to the town.

Ms. BARTLEY: Oh, when he was on like drugs and they shot his tires out in his pickup and chased him around - or him and his wife were always having trouble, calling the - he was always on TV on the news one way or the other.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEVS: He died in late December but his body has not been buried. It's in an undisclosed location while his children are at odds over what to do with it. An attorney representing them will only say a mausoleum at James Brown's home is being considered.

James Brown's home is on what was a dirt road and actually still is if you drive about a quarter mile down. The driveway is a two-lane road marked James Brown Boulevard. A huge gate at the entrance contains notes from fans and a teddy bear one left. It's a stark contrast to the modest white home across the street.

Ms. BARTLEY: Yeah, people buy lots and put in doublewides around here.

LEVS: There's no place to park, except along the street. There's also no hotel in town. Some here say Beech Island should offer to do what it takes to make a museum happen.

Pastor BENNIE HOLMES (Pastor, Silver Bluff Baptist Church): He was the Godfather of Soul.

LEVS: Bennie Holmes is pastor of Silver Bluff Baptist Church, a historic African American congregation. He grew up in neighboring Augusta, Georgia and says James Brown's presence in the region was always a source of pride.

Pastor HOLMES: Very much so. James Brown, when you heard the name James Brown, that was automatically, hey man this is hometown, hometown person.

LEVS: No one thinks a mausoleum here would attract as many visitors to Beech Island as Graceland does to Memphis, but Holmes says it would help put this town of less than 5,000 people on the map.

Pastor HOLMES: I don't know how the people in the community would receive that, but I think it would be the greatest thing that happened in Beech Island.

LEVS: To find out how the community would receive it, we went to the restaurant, Crossroads Café. People line up for helpings of shrimp and collard greens. If you want a big lunch, you can order catfish or frog legs. Shorty Hall(ph) runs a local asbestos maintenance company. He says a James Brown museum would boost the economy.

Mr. SHORTY HALL (Runs an asbestos company): Just because of increased traffic. Any kind of traffic recognition helps.

LEVS: I asked whether he's concerned the visitors might be a bit rowdier than this sleepy town is used to.

Mr. HALL: I don't think so. You know, I just strongly believe it will be a good crowd. It will be a thing for the community.

LEVS: Everyone we spoke to agrees. And Paul Sharpton(ph), the restaurant's owner, thinks he could handle the influx even though as it is there are barely enough tables for customers.

Mr. PAUL SHARPTON (Owner, Crossroads Café): We'd do the best we could.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHARPTON: They stand outside everyday anyway now.

LEVS: Sharpton says if a museum is built, Crossroads Café might, for the first time in its history, open for dinner.

For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs.

(Soundbite of song by James Brown)

BRAND: Stay with us, DAY TO DAY returns in a moment.

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