A pair of new books about James Brown by two of his children offer a disturbing look into the world of the Godfather of Soul, with graphic descriptions of abuse and unbelievable tales of family murders going back 40 years.
In her new memoir Cold Sweat, James Brown’s daughter Yamma Brown graphically describes how the legendary singer beat his second wife, Dee Dee, and recounts her own abusive marriage. A book by Yamma’s half-brother Daryl Brown, Inside the Godfather, makes wild claims about Brown’s death, suggesting that the singer was murdered and that other family members were also murdered.
Brown’s abusive tendencies were well-chronicled in R. J. Smith’s 2012 biography The One, but Yamma’s book adds a chilling and detailed immediacy to the stories.
A long excerpt at Vulture recounts the abuse she witnessed as a child. She writes the abuse sounded “like thunder rolling through the house” as her mom was thrown against walls. “After that, the house would go completely quiet. The sound of the silence was the worst because that’s when Deanna and I would wonder if our mother were alive or dead and if we would be next.”
At 5 she remembered this scene:
“My mother was dressed in her blue and white robe. Her legs were splayed wide open and my father was straddling her, pummeling her with clenched fists. Doosh. Thud. Doosh. Thud. Blood spurted from my mother’s face. She started thrashing around, kicking her legs, holding up her arms to ward off the punches and trying to break free, trying to save herself.”
Later she tells about her own abusive marriage to Darren Lumar in the early 2000s. In an excerpt at The Daily Beast, she describes a particularly brutal beating on March 7, 2007 — two days before her father’s funeral — that convinced her to leave Lumar after nearly 10 years together. Lumar wanted to be put in charge of handling James Brown’s estate but Yamma and her sister didn’t think he could handle the responsibility. He attacked her (something that happened often). She tried to defend herself with a kitchen knife and cut him slightly on his arm. He became more enraged.
“He grabbed me from behind, spun me around, and drove his fist into my face,” Yamma writes. “I went down, and my head smacked the tile floor. Warm blood seeped from a gash in my scalp. I imagined gooey yoke oozing from a cracked egg.
“‘You cut me!’ he screamed. ‘You fucked up. You’re going to jail and I’m going to get the kids. Now get your sorry ass up.'”
But Yamma had finally decided it was enough: “At that moment, lying on that cold tile floor, with my head pounding and my vision blurred, I saw my marriage with absolute clarity, and I knew it was over. I’m not sure why I was so certain this time.”
Another recent memoir from one of Brown’s other nine children, Daryl (Yamma’s half-brother), makes shocking, though unsubstantiated charges about his father’s death.
“My father was murdered,” alleges Daryl Brown in Inside the Godfather. He suggests it might have been done by members of Brown’s inner circle but offers no concrete evidence. Instead, he asserts, “I just have a gut feeling that he was killed.”
Daryl also writes that he believes Darren Lumar’s murder (he was shot in his garage in 2008) was tied into James Brown’s murder and that the 1973 death of his brother Teddy Brown in a car accident was actually a murder. He writes that he believes Teddy was shot before the car crashed. Both books offer harsh takes on Brown’s friends, advisors and business associates and are dismissive of his later wives.
Kirkus Reviews called Yamma’s book “a courageous and often unsettling look at the not-so-glamorous consequences of being the offspring of a major celebrity.”
But the Chicago Tribune said it “would have benefited from more judicious fact checking,” noting several factual errors. The Tribune dismisses Daryl Brown’s book for its hyperbolic claims of murder and its obsession with settling scores with rivals in Brown’s inner circle.