James Brown’s Daughter Talks on His Legacy
What’s a King to a Godfather?
He was the first African-American entertainer to tour the globe in a private jet before the hip-hop community even coined the phrase “I’m fly.” He gave the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, the inspiration to dazzle the world with musical enchantment. He was the embodiment of “cool” or better yet, what the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has deemed “American Cool” in it’s upcoming exhibit featuring a photograph of Brown in all his glory backstage at the Apollo Theatre taken by master photographer Diane Arbus.
He was the giant whose shoulders lent the foundation for pop culture royalty to stand upon. This includes rock ‘n roll legend Mick Jagger, who has joined Universal Pictures’ production team for Brown’s biopic, Get On Up due to be released in August of this year.
And although, the world still feels the void of the James Brown’s presence, his greatest achievement was being a father. He adored his children and lived a life that championed musical education as evident by the fact that his daughter, Deanna Brown-Thomas, serves as the Executive Director of The James Brown Family Children Foundation.
JET had the pleasure of speaking with Brown-Thomas about exactly how important 2014 will be in celebrating her late father’s legacy as the Godfather of Soul.
JET: What was is like sharing the Godfather of Soul with the world?
Deanna Brown-Thomas: My father was very involved! He was strict and stressed the value of education, discipline and respect. (Laughing) I mean he was verrrry involved! He was the type of father that was so involved that sometimes as a daughter you’d actually hope and pray for more space. (Laughing) Yes, he was absolutely a very hard-working man, but he made it clear that he was only a phone call away. He was there every step of the way even throughout the adulthood of my siblings and I.
JET: It’s clear that youth and musical education was very important to your father. As the executive director of The James Brown Family Children Foundation, can you share about how this philanthropic legacy began?
DBT: Sure. My father was a giver. I can remember as a child on several occasions he’d give fans, friends, band members and even strangers on the street whatever he could. He just had a giving spirit. So the foundation is an extension of the lifestyle that he lived. It was founded in 2006, and kicked-off with in my father’s hometown of Augusta, Georgia with the Annual James Brown Turkey Giveaway. After a year of observing other youth-focused not-for-profits, we too launched our youth enrichment platform, J.A.M.P. (James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils).
JET: J.A.M.P. has really become the one of the foremost initiatives within the umbrella of the foundation. How did you implement the program so that it could be the premiere musical education programs in the nation?
DBT: I love J.A.M.P, it’s our baby! Well, again, my father always stressed the importance of education. He, himself dropped out of school during the seventh grade. J.A.M.P. is our commitment to the example of youth enrichment that my father laid. In 2011, we officially partnered with a local school and the program has since become an accredited program that teaches music theory, and instrumentation. Many of our participants, who range in age from 3-18 read and write music. The program has now expanded to Poughkeepsie, New York where we launched The James Brown Family Performing Arts Center.
JET: Wow, that is incredible! How can the public support the works of these young musicians in J.A.M.P?
DBT: We operate from donations, grants, and tuition. If they could visit our website and give to our initiatives, that would be great. What would be even better is if they’d request to sponsor a student’s tuition. Also, J.A.M.P. has released a recording, “JAMPism: The New Breed,” which is available on CD. Check it out online and please support!
JET: Your father was famous for his iconic image. How does it feel to know that he will be featured in the upcoming “American Cool” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery?
DBT: It’s an awesome feeling to have my father honored in this capacity. He was chosen to be one of a select group of individuals spanning different fields of work that collectively influenced the entire nation. It’s very powerful.
JET: Many pop culture greats first idolized and even mimicked your father before they got their big break, such as Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger…
DBT: Yes, absolutely! I mean, as his daughter, I thought it was cool that they thought he was cool. It’s interesting. I didn’t even become a fan of my father’s work until I began to work in radio broadcasting. He was just dad to me!
JET: Well, now your father’s biopic, Get On Up, is underway and due to be released later in the year by Universal Pictures. What can we expect with that?
DBT: This has been a conversation since the early ’90s, when my father was first approached about the idea. My father was not initially interested, but he soon came around. It was evident that once Mick Jagger stepped in as a co-producer with Brian Grazer things really began to take shape. Not too long thereafter, the production team paid my father’s hometown, Augusta, Georgia a visit. That is when I also met Chadwick Boseman who played the lead in the Jackie Robinson biopic. He is a great actor. I am thrilled that he is taking on my father’s role.
JET: Has your family been sought out for their input in the development of the movie?
DBT: Yes, definitely! In fact, my son was production assistant, my cousin Darren Glen was put in charge of music development, and a good number of my father’s former band members also helped in this effort.
JET: Your father was adamant about being authentic! It makes perfect sense that the project would only take off once the timing allowed for the right people to be involved.
DBT: My father was not afraid of being himself. After all of his fame, he was not afraid to come back to the hood. I can see him now rolling down James Brown Boulevard here in Augusta and just sharing his spirit–his love with the people–regardless if it was money or just some words of encouragement.
JET: It’s safe to say that 2014 is marked to be the year that your father’s legacy receives the honor that it is most certainly due. Ultimately, what do you want the public to take away from the life that he lived?
DBT: (Pauses and takes deep breath) He used what God gave him. He spread joy through his music. He exhibited leadership through wisdom. And, he gave people the opportunity to provide for their families. World class musicians like Bootsy Collins, Maceo Parker, Keith Jenkins and many more were given their first big break because my father believed in what the world couldn’t yet see. He believed in people.
American Cool will be on display starting February 7, 2014 until September 7, 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit npg.si.edu.