Say It Loud:

I'm Black and I'm Proud at 50!

Sat. Oct 20, 2018

When “Soul Brother Number One” James Brown released “Say It Loud: I’m Black and  I’m Proud” in the summer of 1968, it became the theme song for an entire movement.  The song and its message were so strong, it sent waves through black American culture.  Not surprisingly, many other soul and R&B artists took notice and were coming up with their own black pride songs. This concert celebrated not only James Brown, but also the Black Pride music he inspired among other African-American artists starting in the summer of 1968, including The Temptations, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone and more.

Musical Director: Christian McBride

All Star Band: Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, Frank Greene, Lee Hogans, Steve Wilson, Rodney Jones, Eric Krasno, Robert “Mousey” Thompson, Nikki Glaspie, Gabu Lugo, Janice Pendarvis

Special Guests:  Lee Fields, Lisa Fischer, Nona Hendryx, Avery Sunshine, & Stokley Williams (of Mint Condition)

Host: Al Sharpton

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"A generation later, Hip-Hop artists Public Enemy and NWA were inspired by “Say It Loud,” and songs like “Fight the Power” and “F*ck tha Police” became the anthems of that generation. “Say It Loud” still resonates as millennials faced with daily examples of police brutality against blacks and the seeming hourly erosion of the Civil Rights gains of two generations ago, are looking for their own anthems."


- Mark Anthony Neal, October 2018 

Commitment to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

James Brown and many other performers risked life and limb to perform in the Deep South to support the Civil Rights Movement. Brown did not agree with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nonviolent tactics, but he had deep respect for him, and the respect was mutual. Dr. King was a fan, so it was only natural for Brown to appear at rallies to strengthen the spirits of the Civil Rights activists who bravely took part in the dangerous work of challenging racism.

On April 4, 1968, Rev. King’s assassination on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee caused hundreds of uprisings across the nation.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: 1968

The Black Panthers wanted to protect the community from the police in Oakland, California. Four days after Rev. King was killed, some of the Panthers wanted revenge and targeted the law. Bobby Hutton (Lil Bobby, as his fellow Panthers called him) and Eldridge Cleaver, a Panther leader, had a shoot out with the police from a basement. They surrendered in a “hands-up, don’t shoot” stance. Eldridge was wounded but survived. Lil Bobby was killed by ten bullets. He was seventeen years old. His death resulted in many Black youth joining the Panthers.

The Night James Brown Saved Boston

The day after Rev. King was killed, Brown was scheduled to appear at the Boston Garden. Violence had erupted in many cities; Boston was one of them. That was the day Brown became a peacemaker, and prevented the unrest in Roxbury (the Black area) from spreading. His performance was televised live on WGBH, and kept people off the streets.

The mayor of the Washington, D.C. also called on Brown to help him end the uprising that was going on there. Brown arrived in DC and walked through the city telling the young rebels to “fight with dignity,” to not destroy their neighborhoods.

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American Patriot

On May 8, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson invited Brown to dinner at the White House to honor him for creating peace from chaos, following King’s assassination. In a handwritten note, Johnson said, “Thank you for what you are doing for our country.”

Singing the Feelings of Millions

African-American people expressed rage and pain over the killing of the “King of Love.” Nina Simone’s “Why the King of Love Is Dead” expressed these feelings. Like Brown, she used her music to help improve the lives of her people.


“…Tired of working hard for the other man…”

Star Power

By 1968, Brown was an international star and box office draw that called the shots. At the Apollo, Brown and his orchestra and revue were filmed for a television special, Man to Man. His early nickname was “Mr. Dynamite” and his reputation as “The Hardest Working Man In Show Business” made him very wealthy. His entrepreneurial sense was as well developed as his performance ability. He used his money to purchase businesses that included the radio station at which he shined shoes when he was a youth. When he purchased another station in Knoxville, Tennessee, he changed the call letters from WGYW to WJBE.

Ten Days in a War Zone

It took two years for Brown to convince the United States government to allow him to go to the jungles of Vietnam to perform for the troops. Brown was the first African-American performer to play there. He did three shows a day, traveling from military base to military base in a helicopter. He did not support the war, but felt it was his duty to boost the soldiers’ morale.

Campaigning for the Democrats

The Hardest Working Man In Show Business was now seen as a powerbroker. He endorsed Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s run for the presidency. Humphrey told him, “You know, you have to be careful, Mr. Brown…we know that if you can stop a riot, you can start a riot.”

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Black is Beautiful

In 1962, the African Jazz-Art Society and Studios (AJASS), led by Harlem activist, Elombe Brath, was one of the first organizations to show the beauty of kinky hair and Afrocentric attire. AJASS held a fashion show featuring the Grandassa models, who all wore naturals. His brother Kwame Brathwaite is a well-known photographer, who made pictures of the Black is Beautiful events.

Brown Goes Natural

From his processed, bouffant hairdo, Brown stopped relaxing his hair and grew an afro. He was a 360 degree Black man, inside and out. The self-respect and dignity he felt was clear, spilling from the place in his soul that was also the source of the powerful lyrics of “Say It Loud…”

"Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud" is recorded in Los Angeles, California

Brown was swept up by the Black Liberation Movement and probably did not know that “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” would become the anthem for a generation. He and Pee Wee Ellis, a saxophone player and his musical director, wrote it. They carried on the centuries-long Black American tradition of using music as a barometer, as a “newspaper,” and as a protest. African-American’s quests for freedom go hand in hand with how the music evolved. Brown and Ellis heard the fierce call for Black Power, spoken by Mukasa Willie Ricks and made popular by Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael). They were both members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Say it Loud… Drops

Some Black people did not like the song, because it used the word Black to describe the group of people that were known as Colored and/or Negro. For some people, Black was nothing to be proud of, and it was not beautiful or powerful.

Radio deejays quit or were fired for wanting to play the tune. Brown said that John H. Johnson, the publisher of Jet Magazine, “was the only one who would print” the song.

The lyrics affirmed the love of the Black self and the overcoming of hardships. It alludes to other songs from the extraordinary African-American musical tradition. The song also alludes to the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. When Brown sings, “we’ve been buked and we’ve been scorned…” he is remembering the words to the Negro Spiritual, “I’ve Been ‘Buked and I’ve Been Scorned” that was probably centuries old in 1968. W.E.B. Du Bois called the Spirituals “sorrow songs.”

At the 1963 March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 250,000 protestors at the Lincoln Monument were captivated by Mahalia Jackson’s rendition.

Education Protests

There were many struggles for justice happening in the country in 1968. In places like Harlem and Ocean Hill-Brownsville in Brooklyn, some public schools became battlegrounds for educational justice for Black and Puerto Rican children. After the plan for Harlem’s I.S. 201 to be integrated failed, because white people would not send their children there, a group of concerned African-American parents demanded community control of the schools to help improve them. The parents wanted teachers and administrators of color to be hired. Some white teachers were fired, which caused a strike by the United Federation of Teachers. Teachers protested by not teaching in schools in New York City.

Anti-Vietnam War Protests

African-American people were not the only ones fighting in 1968. There were many movements going on in the country during these times. The anti-Vietnam War Movement reached a fever pitch at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. Thousands of protestors demonstrated, chanting “Peace Now!” Most of them were white. The police disrupted the activity, and a riot occurred. Many were injured. Eight people were arrested and tried for inciting a riot: John Froines, Lee Weiner, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale were known as the Chicago 8. However, after Seale was bound to a chair and gagged, he was removed from the case, and the Chicago 8 became the Chicago 7. Seale became the co-founder of the Black Panthers, alongside Huey Newton.

Free Huey!

As a co-founder, with Bobby Seale, of the Black Panthers, Huey Newton was as famous as James Brown. Newton’s portrait in a chair, armed with a spear and a shotgun, is as iconic as “Say It Loud,” and is a symbol of the times. The Panthers were known in places like Harlem as providers of free breakfasts for children and free healthcare. When Huey was imprisoned for manslaughter in California, many people of every race, class, and ethnicity joined the campaign to Free Huey!

The Bass Line

Brown’s band members were masters of polyrhythm and could get in a groove that would make your body move. Charles Sherrell played the bass on “Say it Loud” and so many other James Brown songs that rose to the top of the charts. Each generation of musicians is influenced by other generations. Pee Wee Ellis was inspired to write the horn part for “Cold Sweat” by Miles Davis’s song “So What.” Years later, Davis had Michael Henderson play the bass line from “Say it Loud” very, very slowly in the tune “Yesternow.”

March 25-28, 1968:

James Brown and His Orchestra and Revue play the Apollo Theater; the shows are filmed for a future Metromedia (now Fox) television special, Man to Man.

Rising to the Top and Beyond

“Say it Loud…” inspired Black America to continue fighting the power, and the fight was as old as the nation itself. With hundreds of thousands of records sold, the song hit Number 1 on the R&B charts, and stayed there for six weeks. It also peaked at Number 10 on the Hot 100 pop chart. The song influenced the Motown Sound, the world of jazz, spoken-word, and all of Black Music in general.

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

Nina Simone and Weldon Irvine wrote “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.” The songs honors Nina’s friend, playwright Lorraine Hansberry who wrote A Raisin in the Sun.

Message from a Black Man

In 1969, the Temptations released “Message from a Black Man.” Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield wrote it. The refrain, “No matter how hard you try, you can’t stop me now,” shows the pride and power that African-Americans felt. As the piece winds down, the Temptations sing the call, “Say it loud,” and lead singer Dennis Edwards chimes in with the response.

Apollo Live Wire


Fifty years after the release of James Brown’s hallmark anthem, Apollo Live Wire brought together a lineup of acclaimed artists and thinkers to reflect on the impact of that pivotal song in music history. Take a look at Duke University Professor of African and African American Studies, Mark Anthony Neal; bassist, composer and host of Jazz Night in America, Christian McBride; and three special guest DJs, for an improvised evening of music and conversation.

Featuring Guest DJs (L-R): DJ MamaSoul, DJ KS 360, and DJ LiKWUiD.

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The Ultimate James Brown Roundtable

Bassist Christian McBride’s dream of performing with James Brown was realized just months before the Godfather of Soul passed away in 2006. McBride convened this panel of JB “alumni”— musicians and associates — to discuss the music and legacy of the “hardest working man in show business.”

The Roundtable featured:

Fred Thomas, Former bassist with James Brown from 1971-1982, and 1991-2006;
Alan Leeds, co-author of “The James Brown Reader” and former road/tour manager for JB from 1969-1974;
Danny Ray, Emcee and “Cape Man” to James Brown from 1964 until 2006;
Robert “Mousey” Thompson, Drummer with James Brown from 1993 - 2006;
Harry Weinger, Producer of the Grammy-winning James Brown box set “Star Time”;
Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, Legendary saxophonist, former musical director of The James Brown Orchestra from 1966-1969, and co-writer of Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.