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Sharpton Loses Mentor in Soul Man Brown

Sharpton Loses Mentor in Soul Man Brown

The Rev. Al Sharpton remembers spotting his mentor, James Brown, for the first time backstage just before an early 1970s concert.
Brown, in front of a mirror combing his spiked hair, urged the impressionable teenager to aim high. Brown advised Sharpton not to "go for little things _ go for the whole hog."
Then Brown, grabbing a microphone, kept talking right up to when he put the microphone to his lips and sang. The startled Sharpton realized he had followed his idol on stage.
"I didn't know what to do so I started dancing," Sharpton recalled in an interview Monday.
Later, he sobbed as he spoke at a news conference, shortly before leaving for Georgia to see Brown's daughters and offer help planning his funeral.
After that fateful concert in Newark, N.J., Brown supported Sharpton's fledgling youth group and brought him along so often on concerts that people thought Sharpton was Brown's road manager.
The tight bond developed in part because Brown's teenage son, an aspiring lawyer who joined Sharpton's youth group and arranged the first meeting between Sharpton and Brown, died soon afterward.
Their father-and-son-like relationship continued to the end, when Sharpton learned of Brown's death in a 3 a.m. Christmas call from Brown's manager. The manager told Sharpton he and Brown were talking on the phone at 1:45 a.m. about old times when Brown took two breaths "and went out."
Sharpton called the death "the heaviest loss I've ever endured," and said he hopes Brown gets acknowledged in death for the full effect he had on music, social trends and blacks.
"I don't think he ever got his credit because people saw him just as the show man and not the music innovator and the social innovator that he was," Sharpton said.
"He changed the perception of regular blacks. He wasn't tall, light skinned," he said. "He wasn't polished. He was us. It meant the rest of us could make it."
Sharpton called Brown "a person of epic proportions" and said his influence on music from soul to hip-hop to rap and beyond was as great as "what Bach was to classical music."
Brown's accomplishments were even more impressive because he never took a music or vocal lesson and never wrote music, preferring to gather musicians around and hum out a beat, Sharpton said.
"This is a guy who literally changed the music industry," he said. "He put everybody on a different beat, a different style of music. He pioneered it."
Sharpton said Brown also will be remembered for his effect on the country's social fiber.
"It was James Brown that made it fashionable to stop calling blacks Negro," he said. "Even though he had his legal difficulties, no one stopped giving him respect."
Throughout their relationship, Sharpton said Brown kept coaching him, including in his last phone call a week ago when he spoke of the early days as well as a recent police shooting that left an unarmed man dead on his wedding day.
During their final conversation, Brown told Sharpton that life in America for blacks had both improved and worsened during his lifetime and that he hoped the tradition of fighting injustice with love rather than violence continued.
"He was also disappointed that a lot of the artists had lowered their standards," Sharpton said. "He didn't like the profanity. ..."
Sharpton said his friend cherished his honors, even if they missed the full impact of his achievements, and he was never bitter.
"I think he accepted some never get their due until after they're dead," he said.
Every day, Sharpton delivers on a promise he made to Brown a couple of decades ago when he asked the civil rights activist "to straighten your hair like mine so when people see you they think you're my son."
Sharpton said he will never give up the look: "That's my bond with James Brown," he said.


Updated : 2021-05-18 04:04 GMT+08:00