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Papa's got a brand new choir 

The Godfather of Soul has gone to Glory

James Brown came to my neighborhood once.

I was about 11 years old, born and raised in the good ol' city of Augusta, Ga. One of my friends from down the street ran to my house, where I was playing in the yard.

"I just saw James Brown!" he exclaimed, out of breath from the run.

"No, you didn't," I replied.

"Yes, I did! We even got pictures!"

"Oh yeah? Where's he at?"

"Down the street," he insisted. "Over on Beacon Hill."

Then he ran back. I wish I could say I followed him -- since I only had to run a block to meet the Godfather of Soul. But I didn't.

Almost a month has passed since James Brown's death on Dec. 25.

Judging from the soulful responses of fans aired on BET's specials "Soul Brother #1: Remembering James Brown" and "The Godfather Of Soul: Celebrating the Life of James Brown," it's obvious the passing of "Mr. Dynamite" has made a great impact. This was an artist whose music and flavor shaped all genres, including funk, hip-hop, R&B, pop, disco and electronic dance music. Michael Jackson, Prince and even Justin Timberlake (amongst countless other artists) -- all have tasted the influences of James Brown. He was revered without a doubt.

Revered everywhere except his hometown, that is.

Fifty years ago, Brown's single "Please, Please, Please" sold a million copies and made it to the #5 spot on Billboard's Top R&B Singles chart. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, a multitude of songs like "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "Say it Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud," and "Get Up Offa That Thing" were culture-shaking hits. And yet, it's only recently that the city of Augusta has tried to embrace one of its few gateways to worldwide recognition.

It wasn't until 1993 that a street in downtown Augusta was renamed James Brown Boulevard.

His slightly larger-than-life bronze statue wasn't unveiled until May 2005. Even then, it had to be removed for a little over a month when people complained that it should have been placed on a pedestal like the other statues in the downtown area. That was finally taken care of last July.

And how fitting it was to hold a public funeral in Augusta for the Godfather in the arena named for him. As I recall, though, my college graduation, held in the very same place a mere eight months ago, happened in the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center. The city's largest entertainment venue wasn't renamed the James Brown Arena until Aug. 22.

Readers' comments on the Augusta Chronicle Web site complained about the $48,000 cost of the funeral the city had paid for. A funeral that honored "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," whose fame brought him the world even while he remained loyal to his hometown. A funeral that attracted the ever-wandering eye of the international world.

I'm ashamed to admit that I, too, was one of those Augustans who never really gave a second thought to the kind of weight Brown carried. He was the Godfather of Soul, yes, but he was also someone who grew up in Augusta (better known to my generation as Disgusta). Without a second glance, I've walked countless times past the bronze statue that many have only seen pictures of. I've never even posed next to it for a picture.

With James Brown's passing, though, my sleepy eyes have been splashed with cold water, and I can see clearly now. The world has lost a great man.

In the words of a pretty wise guy named Jesus, "Only in his hometown and in his own home is a prophet without honor." How sad but true. It took death by heart failure at the age of 73 for James Brown to be truly honored in the one place he never turned his back on.

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