Thirty years ago yesterday, godfather of soul James Brown released his politically charged single “Say It Loud — I’m Black And I’m Proud.” Four months earlier, Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis, and Brown helped soothe the ensuing racial turmoil by visiting inner-city neighborhoods where riots had broken out. The singer made a point of cutting off his famously processed hair in favor of a politically correct Afro. He took his first trip to Africa, and he visited the White House to discuss America’s social problems with President Lyndon Johnson. In response to difficult times, Mr. “Sex Machine” was turning into a political leader.
The importance of “Say It Loud” was felt by many in the summer of ’68, including one impressionable second grader at P.S. 90 in Richmond Hill. Chuck D., who went on to found the rap group Public Enemy, says of the song: “James Brown singlehandedly took a lost and confused nation of people and bonded them with a fix of words, musi,c and attitude. ‘Say It Loud — I’m Black And I’m Proud’ was the phrase that prepared me for the third grade, 1969, and the rest of my life. Black now signified where we was at, a new discovery of our bad self.” You can read more of Chuck D.’s remarks and hear one of Brown’s first-ever live performances of the career-defining tune on “Say It Live and Loud: Live in Dallas,” just released on Polydor Chronicles.