April 12th

On April 12th 1990, the ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown moved to a work release center after 15 months in prison, before being released in February 1991.


Already on probation, Brown’s bizarre and reckless behaviour of September 24th 1988 landed him a stretch in State Park Correctional Institute in South Carolina. He had entered an insurance seminar next to his office in Augusta, Georgia waving a shotgun and pistol, demanding everybody should leave and claiming that  “strangers were using his bathroom”. He proceeded to engage in a high-speed police chase in a pick-up truck, through Georgia and South Carolina. He attempted to ram police cars, and was able to drive on rims for six miles after three of his wheels were shot out before eventually ending up in a ditch. Brown’s own version of events claimed that a group of white policeman began smashing the windows of his truck just as he was about to surrender to a black officer, causing him to flee. Nonetheless he was sentenced to six years and six months in prison on charges of failing to stop for a police officer and aggravated assault.

Every day he rises at 5:15 to dish out breakfast in the cafeteria, wearing a cook’s white uniform and cap, embellished by purple wraparound sunglasses and a matching purple foulard scarf. He directs the chapel choir, and attendance has doubled since he got there. On Saturdays, his wife Adrienne, a former hair stylist with the television show Solid Gold, brings a dryer and a bag of salon products to primp his curly coiffure. (Time Magazine’s report on Brown’s time in jail)

Seven years after his release, Brown was arrested on discharging a rifle at his home and leading another police chase, this time ending up on a drug rehabilitation programme. Brown had previously spent three years in prison after breaking into cars aged 15, where his time in the prison choir allowed him to showcase his signature rhythms and blues voice.

The pioneering music of James Brown was often used to convey political messages in the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. In 1966, he used his track “Don’t Be a Dropout” to promote a stay-in-school initiative, meeting with Vice President Hubert Humphrey and endorsing him in the 1968 election. “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud”, 1968, insisted, “We won’t quit movin’ until we get what we deserve”, in relation to black rights. On the day after Martin Luther King’s murder in 1968, Brown’s concert was able to stem the widespread riots from occurring in Boston for a second night. Riots which influenced the Civil Rights Act 1968. He also endorsed Richard Nixon in 1972, to the disillusion of most of the black community, citing his belief in individualist policy and the notion that hard-work would bring success to black Americans.

You know, in Augusta, Georgia I used to shine shoes on the steps of a radio station… I think we started at three cents, then we went to five and six. Never did get to a dime. But today, I own that radio station. You know what that is? That’s Black Power… It’s in knowing what you’re talking about, being ready.



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