Study Guide

Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)

Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud) Introduction

In a Nutshell

"Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" is just as funky and infectious as any tune James Brown ever sang; we dare you to try to listen without bobbing your head and tapping your feet.

But the song was also—more of a rarity for the Godfather of Soul—deeply political. "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" was almost a revolutionary statement in 1968, and one laced with more than a little bit of irony. Brown said he recorded the tune as a kind of children's song, hoping to instill pride in the younger generation. But many whites heard it only as militant and angry, costing Brown a good chunk of his interracial crossover audience. 

And those kids happily shouting out the chorus, "I'm Black and I'm proud"? In another ironic twist, most of them were actually white or Asian schoolchildren.

James Brown himself quickly lost interest in the song, pulling it from his normal concert repertoire within a couple years of its release; by the 1980s, he called it "obsolete." But in its moment, "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud") may have been the most important song James Brown ever recorded.

About the Song

ArtistBrown, James
Year1968
LabelKing Records
Writer(s)James Brown, Alfred Ellis
Producer(s)James Brown
Musician(s)James Brown (vocals), Clyde Stubblefield (drums), Charles Sherrell (bass), Jimmy Nolen (guitar), Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis (saxophone), Maceo Parker (saxophone), St. Clair Pinckney (saxophone), Waymond Reed (trumpet), Richard "Kush" Griffith (trumpet), Fred Wesley (trombone), unknown children (chorus)
Learn to play
AlbumSay It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud) (Single)

Music Video

Influences on Brown, James

James Brown was clearly influenced by classic blues, gospel, and African-American folk music. Brown knew he wanted to become an entertainer after watching performance footage of the popular jazz and R&B singer Louis Jordan. He was also certainly influenced by artists like Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and Little Richard, though these musical contemporaries would have been just as influenced by James Brown as he was by them.

Influenced by Brown, James

The real story with Brown is the way in which he revolutionized music, influencing just about every strain of pop music that would follow. He influenced musicians like Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Public Enemy, among others. According to the man himself, "Disco is James Brown, hip-hop is James Brown, rap is James Brown; you know what I'm saying? You hear all the rappers, 90 percent of their music is me." While this may sound more than a bit egotistical, it's hard to say he's wrong. Brown not only directly helped create the genres of soul, funk, and modern R&B, he indirectly influenced an even wider range of artists, encouraging musicians to follow the rhythm and the groove rather than simply adhering to typical musical conventions and structure. Brown's music was sampled by innumerable hip-hop producers and DJs throughout the 1980s and 1990s, helping establish rap as a viable musical form. Even techno is indebted to James Brown. As a testament to his wide-ranging impact on modern pop music, Rolling Stone named Brown #7 on their list of the Most Influential Artists of All Time. And even the academics are getting into the act; recently Princeton University devoted an entire conference to the study of James Brown. Now that's a lecture we could definitely sit through.

Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud) Resources

Books

Nelson George and Alan Leeds, eds., The James Brown Reader: Fifty Years of Writing About the Godfather of Soul (2008)
Great collection of articles about and interviews with James Brown spanning his entire career.

James Brown and Bruce Tucker, James Brown: The Godfather of Soul (1986)
James Brown's autobiography, written with the help of Bruce Tucker.

James Sullivan, The Hardest Working Man: How James Brown Saved the Soul of America (2009)
Gives James Brown the credit he deserves as an important leader in black America.

Images

Hardest Working Man in Show Business
James Brown, down on his knees.

Trademark 'do
James Brown's legendary hairdo

Brown & Jagger
Brown and Mick Jagger backstage at The T.A.M.I. Show in 1964

Ow!!!
James Brown performing – mid-splits?

Websites

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's page devoted to James Brown. Contains a good timeline of his tracks and achievements.

Video & Audio

"Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" on Soul Train
By the time of this performance in 1971, James Brown has ditched the afro, going back to his famous regular 'do. Brown sure knows how to work up a crowd, as they come join him on stage at the very end.

"Say It Loud" on Playboy After Dark
This video of Brown performing this song before an adoring crowd of young Playboy Playmates (and Hugh Hefner) at the Playboy Mansion is equal parts classic and hilarious.

"Please, Please, Please" on The T.A.M.I. Show, 1964
This song was Brown's first hit, which he recorded in 1956 with the group The Flames. Brown would end his shows with this number. In this performance, Brown collapses mid-song, exhausted from an evening of hysteric, frantic dance moves. His bandmates bring him a king's robe and begin to escort him off stage, singing "please, please don't go." Well but Brown simply would not go...offstage that is. He throws off the robe and continues singing louder than ever. Talk about showmanship!

"Georgia on My Mind"
Just in case you did not think James Brown could belt out a beautiful ballad, well here's proof. Brown plays homage to his home state, and to his fellow Georgian Ray Charles. And in case you weren't sure if he deserved the title, "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," check out all the sweat reflecting off the lights and dripping from his brow.

James Brown gives you Dancing Lessons
Learn how to do the boogaloo, funky chicken, mashed potatoes, camel walk, and the robot, among others, from James Brown himself.