The world knew singer James Brown as The Godfather of Soul — the singer who essentially invented funk and who from the mid-1950s through the 1990s put more than 100 songs on the R&B charts and influenced generations of performers, including such luminaries as Michael Jackson, Prince and Bruno Mars.
But Brown's son Daryl wants the world to know his father was a figure who was far more important than music — someone who in the racially charged 1960s had the courage to present himself as an equal to others of any race and, in doing so, was an example to a generation who fought for equality.
"I wanted his life to be a testimony," Daryl Brown, 53, says in a phone call from New York, where he's on a tour to promote his new book "My Father the Godfather" [Waldorf Publishing, $14.95 paperback, 131 pp.]. He'll hold a book signing 3-5 p.m. Aug. 9 at Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem.
"I wanted people to know what made James Brown tick — the person that he was and the impact that he had on people. They connect to him one way — they went to the show, they saw this guy dancin', they see him doing all these tremendous things … the greatest artist in the world, the greatest entertainer in the world.
"But I wanted people to see him as a person — not an artist. Because that was only half of what that was. That was only half of it. If you knew the whole of it, then you would probably say, 'Wow! Hell, if James Brown could do it, I could do it.'"
The book also makes some shocking claims: that James Brown may have been murdered, that James Brown was offered $12 million by a country in the Middle East to publicly convert from Christianity to Islam and that Michael Jackson styled James Brown's hair after he was embalmed.
Daryl says the fact that the book is coming out at the same time as Universal Pictures' "Get On Up," a biopic whose executive producer is Mick Jagger, is a coincidence.
"They've been having the rights to that movie for over nine years," he says. "It don't take no nine years to do a movie. You can do a movie in three months. So they already had a plan to do the movie; what they were waiting for is for him to die — then do a movie, put their little spin on it and everything.
"That's Hollywood — James Brown's life wasn't dramatic enough. But I think otherwise — if you really tell the truth about James Brown, it's going to lift a lot of people."
Brown says his father disliked Jagger, whom he called "the Devil's son."
"He wasn't a fan of Mick Jagger's," he says. "That's Hollywood, though. That's the way they do things."
The portrait of James Brown as a leader of African Americans is just one that Daryl draws in the book.
Others are far less flattering: a prodigious womanizer and unfaithful husband (Brown and Daryl's mother never married), who sometimes was abusive to women. Daryl writes that, at 16, he tried to leave his father after witnessing him severely beat one of his four wives.
The singer, despite firing band members who used drugs early in his career, later became a drug addict. And, Daryl says, despite serving a three-year prison term for several drug-related offenses, his father continued to use PCP until his death.
But mostly the book is a portrait of an imperfect man who pulled himself up from birth in a shack in Barnwell, S.C., to become one of the most influential musicians in history.
The book is a combination of narrative and oral history from what the son calls the singer's "inner circle": Danny Ray, who appeared onstage as his master of ceremonies, draping Brown's cape over his shoulders; other band members; longtime attorney Buddy Dallas; his last wife Tomi Rae, and others.
Brown spent long periods with his father. When he was young, he worked summers on the singer's tour, taking care of shoes and ironing shirts under the tutelage of longtime valet Gertrude "Aunt Gert" Sanders. He also later played guitar in his father's touring band.
"I tell people I'm funky by blood," Daryl says. Yet of all James Brown's acknowledged nine children (the paternity of claimed others is questioned), only he and half-sister Venisha Brown, a one-time singer and dancer, followed musical careers.
Asked why he wrote the book now, nearly eight years after his father's death from congestive heart failure at age 73, Daryl says he struggled with the idea.
"I wanted to tell the truth," Daryl says. "There were so many things about my father coming out. I thought his life should be a testimony to musicians, to just common people, period. Because that's what he stood for. So I just did it.