The One

The Life And Music of James Brown
by RJ Smith

I don’t think that I can categorize myself as a James Brown “fan”. His music has just always been there as a part of my life. From my parents albums to the samples used in the hip-hop music I later gravitated towards as a young adult. 

While the subtitle says “Life And Music”, this book is more of a memoir of Brown as a musician and businessman, covering his entrepreneurial spirit from boyhood on. His personal and family life is not covered with as much scrutiny.  That’s probably for the better, because, although he was know to be gracious to children (his own and strangers), he was not that kind to the women in his life.

The stories of him as a strict bandleader are legendary and those are included. Hearing about his creating and recording process was enlightening, especially since his career spanned so many decades and he had to reinvent himself several times. What I found really interesting was the political and socially conscious James Brown. I wasn’t aware of his close ties with President Nixon and Vice President Hubert Humphrey and it was difficult reconciling this James Brown with the one who wrote “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud). 

Exhaustive interviews provide a comprehensive look at how he became one of the hardest working men ever in entertainment. This is a must-read for anyone who loves contemporary music. The author is obviously a big fan of music, because sometimes his descriptions border on the poetic. 

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