One night in the mid-1950s, three of the entertainment world's top singers were doing a show in Laurel's Garden in Newark, N. J. They were all Georgians. They had been moving all around the South and finally had invaded the North.
So they were battling before crowds of thousands testing their singing skills.
But their warfare, directed at capturing the approval of their fans, was suddenly turned toward each other. So there they were - taking turns before the crowd - Little Richard, Ray Charles, and James Brown.
Each singer, with their backup musicians and wild, flashy, almost scandalous attire, performed like it was the last chance on earth to be seen and heard - trying to outdo each other.
Little Richard's act had modulated to a wild frenzy, with his high-pitched screams and bleating and shrilling intonations.
When James Brown came onto the stage, running, stomping, dancing, screaming as high as his voice could be pitched - and with his usual acrobatic and rhythmic movements - the noisy, crowd exploded with hysteria.
While the blast of thunderous applause and ecstatic voices filled the auditorium, echoing and bouncing from the walls, Little Richard, using the stage crew, and every means at his disposal, tried to get Brown off the stage.
Then suddenly, James Brown, catching the challenge of the moment, had his backup group, the Flames, boost him up into the rafters, and there, still holding the microphone, broke into "Please, Please, Please."
He finished the act by jumping from the rafters in the arms of The Flames. He had given nearly all he had.
He stood for a moment on the stage, with perspiration pouring from his face, with the countenance of a victorious boxer. Everyone who saw him knew he had not given everything. There was more left in his energy-packed body and impassioned voice.
That night in Newark was one of the most unusual in the history of entertainment. For the very first time, the three pioneers of soul music and rock music were sharing the stage - if anyone could call it sharing.
Their influence was to be felt for the next 40 years.
Next stop was New York.
Let's take a look at Mr. Music Box - that was the name given James Brown while he was serving time as a teenage offender in the Georgia Juvenile Training Institute at Rome. He had participated in a armed robbery, and to use the words of a familiar song, "he fought the law and the law won.
The place had been used in World War II as a training camp for the Women's Army Corps. Here he learned more and did more to develop his unusual musical talents.
The discipline, the disappointments, the hard labor - boxing, fistfights, time in solitary confinement, friendships - and the fatherly guidance of a compassionate warden - all combined to forge amazing success out of temporary failure.
James had grown up listening to gospel music and rhythm and blues. In fact, his musical roots were so deep into these two forms, it was had for him to tell exactly which one he liked the most.
Through the kindness of a friend, he was able to listen to the radio while in confinement; this seemed to be all he needed for inspiration. Soon he had a gospel quartet, and they were entertaining folks all over Rome.
In the late 1950s I first heard of James Brown. Many of the young people in my hometown of Savannah talked of going to his concerts; they said he was a Georgian, but I later found out that he was born in the pinewoods outside Barnwell, S.C., on May 3, 1933. But he grew up in Augusta and later lived in Macon after his career in music got off the ground.
Some writers have said his birthplace was Macon; others said Augusta. Most of his life has been spent in Georgia, and Georgia claims him.
After Brown's release from the reform school, he pursued with a relentless vigor his career as a rhythm and blues performer. His unique vocals, contortionist acrobatics and flare for the dramatic, led him to attain the rank of Soul Brother No. 1 in the 1960s and 1970s.
Brown's famous concert climax was a built around his early hit, "Please, Please, Please." Returning to that sensational event, we hear the band pounding relentlessly with climactic musical renditions, we hear the Flames blending with "Baby, Please Don't Go," and see James dropping to his knees with microphone in hand, making an impassioned plea for his "baby" to stay.
Then, crying and convulsing, he would be led off the stage draped in a cape. The crowd, built up to a high pitch of excitement, would think Brown had finished. He'd then run back on the stage with the cape and with supercharged enthusiasm and hectic animation, he'd cry out the words, "I, I, I."
This pretended conclusion to the act would go on with Brown leaving and returning until the audience was captured in hypnotic submission.
He was advertised --- and rightly so --- as "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." And he had plenty of sweat to prove it.
His raw emotionality and vocal style finally earned him the title of "Godfather of Soul."
In 1962, Brown recorded a midnight show at New York's famous theater, the Apollo. The album, Live at the Apollo, reached No. 2 on the pop charts and enjoyed 33 weeks on the top 40. The album broke into the pop field with a smash and proved to be his greatest chart success.
James Brown, Mr. Music Box, was without a doubt one of the leading figures in American music. His style has influenced many top performers, including Michael Jackson.
His music is laced with the traces of revivalist gospel and the Southern shape-note tradition. His use of gospel devices such as falsetto shrieks, raw-throated grunts, hoarse screams, gasps and super-high falsetto cries has made him worthy of his name and honors.
In 1983, Brown was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. He held the distinction of laying the groundwork for making Detroit a major recording center. The legendary "Godfather of Soul" died in Atlanta December 25, 2006.
All his music is traceable to the South, and in the hearts of those who loved his music, the South is where the memory of Mr. Music Box will remain.