The Billboard Cover Story - Jagger's James Brown: Al Sharpton Recalls His Bond With Brown

"I became the son he lost"

It was 1979, and I was just 26 years old. I knew James Brown for about eight years, as his son Teddy and I were good friends until he was tragically killed in a car accident a few years earlier. It was actually after that horrific disaster that my relationship with James Brown grew even stronger; I became the son he lost, and he became the father I didn't have anymore. And in 1979 he came up to me and said: "Let's do a gospel rap record."

I had no idea what a gospel rap record was. James didn't waste any time breaking it down. He told me he was going to sing and I would preach. We flew to Augusta, Ga., and recorded "God Has Smiled on Me." The record was never released, but that experience altered the trajectory of my life.

I ended up staying in Augusta for over a year and helped James with the business, and he helped me with my civil rights work and the national youth movement I was involved with. One night, he pulled up in front of a church and asked me: "Do you hear that?" All I heard was people singing. James said: "Do you hear the band? That's where I learned music."

We sat outside and listened. He explained that they start playing on the "one," unlike others who start from a "two, four" beat. That's how he did his music, starting from the one, changing the dynamic from a two, four beat to a "one, three" beat. He made it popular to be on the one and transformed black music. As the years went by, I learned that he always operated from the one. He told me to preach on the one - to be slightly off beat, because that's what he did.

James never conformed and always defined himself. He wasn't the first black artist to go mainstream, but he made the mainstream go black. He represented us in a way where the world started imitating our authentic music.

There will be others that will sell as many or more records, but you've got to have the courage and self-confidence of a James Brown to take the world to a different beat.

Wherever he is, I want him to know that I've tried to stay on the one.


Al Sharpton is the host of PoliticsNation weeknights at 6 p.m. on MSNBC.


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