On Sunday, Nov. 20, the legendary Pee Wee Ellis and an ensemble of international music greats will kick of the 11/12 Annenberg Center African Roots series with “Still Black, Still Proud: An African Tribute to James Brown.”
Joining Ellis on stage to celebrate the points at which African and American music strike sparks off each other in a rhythm-fueled tribute to Afro-funk, will be Maceo Parker, Vusi Mahlasela and Cheikh Lo.
Known as “The Man Who Invented Funk,” Ellis first joined forced with James Brown in 1965, and has been touring with this tribute show since 2008, playing to sold-out audiences around the globe. Says Ellis of the show, “Since the beat came from Africa, we wanted to bring it back by way of combing funk with some African rhythms.”
And the audience keeps coming back to see the show, he adds, “because of the fact that it is a tribute to James Brown, an incredible artist. And they keep coming to see us play this tribute to the ‘Godfather of Soul.’ because it’s obvious we love what we’re doing.”
Ellis explains that he doesn’t do this tribute show constantly, but rather goes on small tours when he can. “We do about ten shows a year. This is a big project to put together and lots of details to sort out to make it all work. But being on stage with all these good people and seeing the appreciation on the faces of the audiences makes it a real blessing to be able to do it.”
As a young boy, Ellis began studying the piano in his hometown of Bradenton, Fla. After the family moved to Lubbock, Texas, he started playing clarinet and saxophone in junior high. By the time the family moved again, this time to Rochester, N.Y., Ellis was already a skilled musician.
“I first began playing music as a fun thing to do, something I just enjoyed doing. I also found out it was fascinating because the more you got into it, the more you wanted to put into it, and then, of course, the more you put in, the more you got out. When I finally realized you could make money doing it, I thought this might be a great way to make a living.”
Not only was Ellis able to make a living, but he was fortunate enough to join the James Brown band. “I joined the band after a friend of mine who was in the band called to say James needed a saxophone player. He asked me if I need a job and if I was interested,” Ellis remembers. “At the time, I barely knew who James Brown was, but I said sure. I thought I might be able to earn enough money to finally afford to play jazz.”
And so, joining the James Brown Revue, Ellis became an extremely important asset, beginning to arrange music with Brown almost immediately, becoming band leader within six months. He was soon co-writing with Brown, penning his first hit, “Cold Sweat,” in 1967, defining what we think of as Funk to this day, and followed by many other hits, including “Say It Loud,” “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “Mother Popcorn,” “Lickin’ Stick” and others.
“James Brown had a lot to do with making these songs hits,” Ellis says. “As for me, I just wrote the songs. It’s always the guys in the band who make the music.”
But soon, Ellis longed to grow beyond the confines of James Brown and left the revue in 1969 to work as an arranger and musical director for CTI-Kudu records. He later wrote arrangements for Van Morrison and became Van’s musical director for a few years. He also worked with others to produce several albums and go on tour.
In fact, he says, “Even today I tour quite a bit. I have several bands of my own, like the Pee Wee Ellis Assembly, a combination of funk and jazz. I also have a jazz quartet, which is bebop. I very much like playing with other people’s bands, and I like being a guest artist. I also like recording. And when I’m not busy doing all that, I teach. So, as you can see, I’m quite busy.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 898-3900.
On Thursday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m., the 2012 Essence of Entertainment concert series at the Dell Music Center, 33rd Street and Ridge Avenue, concludes with "A Night of Funk," featuring WAR, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, the Dazz Band, the Ohio Players and the Bar-Kays.
At age 71, George Clinton is still the undisputed Godfather of Funk, and said that he has no intention of slowing down. "Funk got Viagra in it!" he proclaimed in a recent interview. "That keeps you goin'!"
With a catalog of hits that includes "One Nation Under a Groove," "Flashlight," "P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)" and "(Not Just) Knee Deep," as well as a cast of characters that features "Sir Nose D'Void of Funk" and "Starchild," Clinton and his animated aggregation put the "fun" in funk. While their once-spectacular stage show has scaled down considerably over the years, the music stands on its own.
"We don't have the Mothership, but the show is still high-powered, Clinton said. "We won't be able to play as long as we would like to play because they have all those other acts on there."
The hip-hop generation has been profoundly influenced by Clinton's music, with his clever and complex compositions making him second only to James Brown as the most heavily sampled artist, and in 1997, Parliament Funkadelic was inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "Prince inducted us in there. We went in with the Jacksons, Mavis [Staples], The (Young) Rascals — all these people that I'd known over the years," Clinton said proudly.
As always, the inimitable George Clinton has found a way to keep his funkateers off balance, and fans at the Dell should expect the unexpected. "I cut my hair off and I'm wearing suits," he said. "It's been long enough to recreate myself again."
For tickets and information, call the Dell box office at (215) 685-9560 or visit www.mydelleast.com.
No matter what you do, you couldn’t seem to sit still.
First, your foot started bouncing and your head joined it. Wasn’t long before your shoulders were wiggling like they weren’t attached to your spine and then you were on your feet, shaking your back-end in time with the music.
The tunes you grew up with can do that to you. But you can blame it on the beat, as you’ll see in the new book “The One: The Life and Music of James Brown” (Gotham Books/$27.50) by RJ Smith.
James Brown was never supposed to live.
For most of his life, he bragged that when he entered the world in May 1933, he was born dead but his Aunt Minnie blew into his lungs and brought him back to life. That, and the abandonment of his mother were two of his most-repeated stories — although the latter was only partially true.
Though he was born in North Carolina, Brown’s father moved the family to Augusta, Ga., in the late 1930s, in search of a better life. They settled in The Terry, which was shorthand for “The Negro Territory,” where Black-owned businesses thrived. One of the businesses was a cathouse run by Brown’s “Aunt Honey.” She gave the boy a roof over his head, but she beat him regularly, too.
Violence was, in fact, a way of life for James Brown. His parents fought often, and growing up, Brown considered himself a thug. He was known for his fearlessness and fast fists (he was briefly a boxer), and for his love of firearms. In later years, the Rev. Al Sharpton recalled that Brown often carried a gun.
Despite his tough streak, though, Brown was known to be gracious and people loved him. He was a savvy womanizer who knew how to play an audience, whether it was one or one hundred thousand. He knew that theatre was what people wanted, and he gave it to them — but there was more to James Brown than capes and curls.
He was very politically active, and counted presidents among his friends. He worked hard on matters of civil rights, and once “saved” a city from being ruined by riots. Generous even in his last days, he was helping charity organizations when he died in December, 2006.
How much more than music is there to a man? “The One” (so-titled for James Brown’s beat-count) tells us, and it’s a good story.
Author RJ Smith brings his readers a sweeping and grand biography of the Godfather of Soul, and he lets us see the good and the bad in that life. Though this book can be a little longish at times, I really liked the behind-the-scenes tales of the James Brown that younger fans might not know. Smith shows that there was a deeper Brown than what’s seen on old video clips, and that made me smile.
If you’re up for a bio that will make you hum along, then “The One” is the one you want. Read this book and you’ll feel good!
Miles Davis and James Brown both influenced each other at different times in their careers, and continue to electrify the sensibilities of music fans. In channeling the creative energies of Davis, the “Godfather of jazz-rock fusion,” and Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” audiences can expect an improvised orchestral arrangements of timeless tracks when the 13-piece ensemble, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, performs.
Founded by bassist Jared Michael Nickerson and Village Voice icon/Arkestra conductor Greg “Ionman” Tate in 1999, Burnt Sugar is a sprawling band of musicians whose personnel exhibits expertise in the experimental soul-jazz-hip-hop spectrum. This accomplished group has playing credits that include Toshi Reagon, DJ Logic, Gary Lucas, TV On The Radio, Tamar Kali, Phish, William Parker, Liz Wright, The Holmes Brothers, Wadada Leo Smith, David Murray and Joseph Bowie.
Tate was a staff writer at The Village Voice from 1987 to 2003, and was recently acknowledged by The Source magazine as one of the “Godfathers of hip hop journalism” for his groundbreaking work on the genre’s social, political, economic and cultural implications in the period when most pundits considered it a fad. Next year Duke University Press will publish “Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader.” He recently completed “The 100 Best Hip-Hop Lyrics” for Penguin and is now working on a book about James Brown for Riverhead Press.
“I use to play in R&B and funk bands in high school, and I put the music down, really for a long time, as I got serious about my writing,” recalled Tate. “I went to Howard, got out of Howard, started writing for the Village Voice, did that for 20-something years. And then, about 1991, I got re-inspired to think about my music again ... I got serious about my guitar, song writing, band leading. Fast-forward to 1999, and I really wanted to put something together that was in the spirit of Miles’ ‘Bitches Brew,’ but with contemporary cats, and a lot of cats that I knew from the Black Rock Coalition. That was the nucleus, so we put together this situation we called, ‘Burnt Sugar and the Arkestra Chamber’ — with a little nod to the Sun Ra Arkestra and the Wu Tang Clan. It was always concieved to be a big band, but a big electronic-oriented band, like ‘Bitches Brew.’”
The Burnt Sugar manifesto reads in part that it “freely moves amongst many styles, eras and genres to devise its own exciting hybrids. These hybrids are based on a solid foundation of various musical traditions and the use of cutting-edge music technology. In this sense the group mission honors its deepest inspirations, the first post-modernists of American music — Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, Parliament Funkadelic and The Art Ensemble of Chicago.”
According to Tate, music must be heard — especially music designed to push back current musical boundaries. “People like this band because all of our cats are who other people hire to make them sound good,” said Tate. “This is an opportunity for them to play with their own peers and really stretch out. I see my job as to keep the music sounding conceptually interesting — and have fun with the music, too.”
The Painted Bride Center, located 230 Vine Street, presents Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber on Friday, September 28 at 8pm. General admission tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Members of Burnt Sugar arrive in Philadelphia a week early for an in-store performance and meet and greet at Jaz Sound on 11th Street between Market and Chestnut streets on Friday, September 21 at 5pm. For more information, call (215) 925-9914 or visit paintedbride.org.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Soul singer James Brown's charitable trust had withered to just $14,000 and his estate was saddled with more than $20 million in debt before a professional money manager was able to turn it around, an attorney told The Associated Press.
Under a complex 2009 settlement, the manager took control of Brown's assets from the estate's trustees. That manager wiped out the crushing debt and paved the way for thousands of needy students to receive full college scholarships by next year from the charity by cutting deals that put the Godfather of Soul's music on national and international commercials for Chanel perfume and Gatorade.
The full details of that settlement and the dire condition of Brown's estate had previously been a mystery and were provided to the AP by David Black, an attorney for the money manager.
And now that deal — which gave about half of Brown's assets to the trust, a quarter to Brown's widow and young son, and the rest to his adult children — could be in jeopardy because the ousted trustees claim the deal should never have been approved and should be thrown out.
The deal brokered by then-South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and approved by Circuit Judge Jack Early ended years of fighting among Brown's heirs, who came to realize no one would gain without an agreement. The disputes had started almost immediately after Brown died of heart failure on Christmas Day 2006.
But the trustees who'd been removed, Adele Pope and Robert Buchanan, argue in briefs filed to the South Carolina Supreme Court that the attorney general didn't have the authority to push through the settlement and want the whole thing thrown out. The court will hear arguments on the matter Tuesday.
The trustees argue they were not party to the negotiations that led up to the settlement, had opposed it, and were removed because of their opposition. The trustees' attorneys declined to comment beyond the court documents.
In their brief, lawyers for the attorney general's office argue the trustees hadn't conducted an appraisal of Brown's estate, had paid themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of Brown's household and personal effects and claimed "$5 million in fees and want to scuttle a settlement so that the litigation will continue." Furthermore, McMaster was justified in getting involved because under state law he must look after those who might benefit from a charitable trust.
At the time of the settlement, the exact value of Brown's assets was not made public and attorneys said his accounts had little money in them. In the summer of 2008, some of his possessions were auctioned off for $850,000, in part to pay for the debt. All agreed at the time that future income from music and movie royalties and the use of Brown's likeness was what remained at stake.
"Placing Pope and Buchanan back into power would be similar to throwing a grenade into the James Brown music empire," said David Black, an attorney for Russell Bauknight, the court-appointed special administrator and trustee for Brown's estate and the charitable trust. Bauknight has not commented on the status of the case since he was named in 2009, nor has he been paid for his work up to this point, Black said.
"We'd have to start from scratch."
Brown's death touched off years of bizarre headlines, beginning with his widow Tomi Rae Hynie being locked out of his 60-acre (24-hectare) estate and photographers capturing her sobbing and shaking its iron gates, begging to be let in.
Arguments over where the soul singer was going to be laid to rest resulted in his body being held in storage in its sealed gold casket inside his home for more than two months. He was eventually buried at one of his daughter's homes. Family members at the time said they wanted to build a shrine to Brown around his grave mimicking Elvis Presley's final resting place at Graceland in Tennessee.
The settlement appears to have smoothed over the rifts among family members. None has sued to overturn the agreement.
Black said Bauknight hired a professional music manager and has poured all proceeds from Brown's music to pay off the estate's major debt, a $26 million loan taken out by Brown that was supposed to be used to pay for a European tour. The final payment will be made seven years ahead of time by the end of 2011, Black said.
As yet, no payments have been made to any family members, Black said. Students in South Carolina and Georgia could start receiving scholarships by next year, Black said.
He said the family members favored the settlement because they found it to be fair, and because it is expected to generate even more revenue in the long term for the charitable trust.
"They believe the settlement provides a result that James Brown would have been proud of and they believe that the global settlement ending years of litigation, and preserving the charitable trust for needy school children, assures Mr. Brown's legacy," Black said. -- (AP)