The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Wednesday, April 24, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

'Still Black, Still Proud' celebrates music of James Brown

James Brown proved that history played a role in popular music.

Known as the creator of funk, the late Brown brought African history into his work and influenced modern music.

Carolina Performing Arts is hosting a tribute to the historic Brown tonight, led by saxophonist and composer Pee Wee Ellis, who was a part of Brown’s band in the 1960s.

For the touring event “Still Black, Still Proud,” Ellis will be joined by Vusi Mahlasela, Cheikh Lo and Maceo Parker, who played the saxophone with Brown.

Ellen James, marketing manager for the executive office for the arts, said audience members not of Brown’s generation will recognize phrases and rhythms in his songs from current music.

“I don’t think they need a history lesson to make the connection,” James said.

Fatimah Jackson, a UNC anthropology professor who lived in Africa during the 1970s, said history played a significant role in Brown’s music.

“James Brown really tapped into African-American rhythms that had their roots in Africa,” she said.

She said Brown’s lyrics symbolized the struggles of not only Africans in the late ’70s, but of all humankind.

“It’s timeless music because it does resonate with the human spirit.”

David Pier, a professor in African and African-American studies, said Brown created a new platform on which to build music that continued past his career.

“He was innovative in stripping popular music down to a very basic, compelling groove,” he said.

“It’s hard to consider how we could have had hip-hop, techno, other dance music.”

Brown’s influence shows that his work is not outdated.

“They might think, ‘That’s parents’ music or grandparents’ music,’” James said. “But if you hear it today, it’s so much fun.”

Ellis and the band will be playing mostly Brown’s music, though through their own interpretations, James said.

Jackson said that, because Ellis and Parker worked with Brown so closely, the two will know what he wanted and expected from a performance.

Chris Reali, a musicology graduate student, reiterated the pair’s role in Brown’s music.

“He and Parker, they were responsible for James Brown’s sound,” he said.

James said she’s noticed ticket-holders look forward to the atmosphere of the show.

“People who want to come want to experience the energy of the music,” James said.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

“If you don’t want to get up and dance while listening to this music, there is something wrong with you.”

Contact the Arts Editorvat