Article Overview:   When you're black and arrested at 15 for car theft, then arrested again in your middle aged years and placed in prison for 2 1/2 years, you might come out bitter.  But James Brown isn't.  His tribute to America and to the great opportunity of life in this country is spellbinding.    He sang last night to the Sentinels of Vigilance at Ground Zero.  Find out how the Godfather of Soul did.


Wednesday--May 28, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 623
James Brown At Ground Zero--America: Love It or Leave It
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

  GROUND ZER0, New York, New York--May 28, 2003--James Brown, America's self-proclaimed "Godfather" of soul, sang his heart out at Battery Park last night, just a few blocks from Ground Zero.   In the midst of his free New York concert, he paused to pay tribute to America, including asking the audience to raise their hands if they loved America.   For those who chose not to, he said:  "If you don't love it, then you can leave it."

James Brown:  "The Godfather of Soul"

      Waving small American flags, his incredible band belting out his trademarked primal beat offered a rendition of God Bless America as dancers, draped in American Flags, bobbed and weaved and gyrated before an audience of thousands, packed into a pie-shaped section of Battery Park.   The event, sponsored by American Express, was the 2nd Annual kick-off of the River-to-River free concert program.
       Last year, singer Sheryl Crowe, launched the festival which offers more than 500 no-cost events to New Yorkers, and is designed to boost business and interest in Lower Manhattan following the tragic events of Nine Eleven.
       The event was close up and personal for me.   My wife, a long-time James Brown fan, hoists James on the pedestal of rock and rolls greatest, just a fraction of an inch below The King, Elvis.   When I heard James Brown was going on tour this year, I searched the Internet for tickets.  Alas, he had no venues scheduled for New York.
       Then the other day, our older daughter called to alert me that James was giving a free concert in Battery Park.  I rushed to the phone to find out about tickets.  Last year free passes were required, and I was unable to find any for Sheryl Crowe.  We ended up getting in, however, but were relegated to the last row of late-comers.
       This year, there were no tickets required.   So, about noon, I packed up my computer, umbrella, strapped on a couple of lawn chairs to my shoulders, made sure I had the Boggle game, blankets, extra jackets and trundled down the N Subway toward the South Ferry where Battery Park is nestled on the tip of Manhattan.
       I expected a herd of people, crushed in line all night long to see the "Godfather of Soul."   To my elation and surprise, I was the first in line--a single, solitary Soldier of James Brown Vigilance poised at the entrance of Battery Park, eight and a half hours ahead of Brown's scheduled appearance at 8:30 p.m.
      There is a community of people who queue up early to hear fabulous legends sing or dance for free.   Mary, a social worker from Harlem who took a half day off, joined me in line.   She has two children and is a James Brown fan.   We talked about being overweight, dieting, food, children, life, and she made me in charge of keeping line cutters from trying to edge their way to the front.
      Also early was a Japanese lady who had seen James Brown in Japan three years ago.  She spoke broken English but as the bad warmed up throughout the day, she made the moves to the beat of the drums in a universal dance that knows no borders.
      When the crowd was let in, I rushed with Mary and our Japanese friend to the front of the stage, just a few feet away from where the Godfather of Soul would be belting out his legendary sounds in a few hours.
       The ground was wet, soaked from days of rain.   I cabbaged a piece of plastic and spread it out so we could sit without getting wet, and then waited for my wife to come.
       They call the section up front the "mosh pit."  I didn't know why until people started to press forward, some trying to edge their way in front of us to grab the railing and block our view.  Then the Terror began.

James Brown and the crowd sang "God Bless America"

       A big guy, I stood as Sentinel of Vigilance for the railing.   At 6-4 and 280 pounds, with a growling Voice and stern look, I was able to confront a number of guys who tried to block the view of those of us who had stood in line for five hours.  Mary shot volleys at them.
       On one occasion I had to call the security guards to remove a rabid rough-looking guy who refused to move from the railing in front of the couple next to us.  A couple of young thuggish teenagers got into a bout with my wife.  They were crowding into her space, kicked her by accident or intention, and she slapped at one's leg in retaliation and to ensure the removal of his foot from the top of her other hand.   There were long moments of tension, words spat back and forth as the two ruffians tried to extract an apology from my wife, and I intervened to quell the potential conflagration.
       As the crowd pressed tighter, the tension coiled.   It was a like a frag grenade.  If someone pulled the pin there would be an explosion.
       One rasty fan got into a confrontation next to us over shoving himself ahead of others.  He was pulled over the rail by security guards and ejected, but not after tempers and words flew like shrapnel.
        It was my first "mosh pit" experience.   I thought there might be some civilized behavior about watching the show, but the rule was to press in as tight and close as possible--to get within "sweating distance."
       More than a year ago, my wife and I had gone to the opening of B. B. King's  at Times Square, and gotten front row seats where we could see the sweat dripping off Little Richard's forehead.   I was sure a great deal of it was caused by the massive wig he wore.
      In the Battery Park 'arena' we stood for a couple of hours, listening to the opening band and then the interlude before James Brown came on.
      I had been harsh with the two ruffians, and kept imagining a shiv sunk into my kidneys as I watched the show.  I was wearing an NYPD t-shirt, so perhaps, I hoped, the punks would think I was a cop.  Still, it would be easy to inflict great bodily pain upon someone in such a crowd and slip silently away.   I tried not to think the worst, but my nature is to focus on the worst of things and expect the best.  Maybe that's why I survived 100 combat operations, and nearly six decades of life.
      Then there was the Terror of rain.   The Great Godfather of Soul had guardian angels looking out for his New York Fans.   The open air venue was dangerous.  If it rained, the musical equipment would be subject to the water damage and there was no rain date.  This was a one-time event.
      My thoughts shifted from the Terror of being kneed or cut by the tough guys I had challenged to the Terror of Nature.   I was hoping the Sentinels of Vigilance were alert tonight.   They were just up the road, a few blocks northwest of us, at Ground Zero.
      On that fateful day of September 11, 2001, when I was at Ground Zero, I was sure I saw the spirits of those lost in the attack rise up out of the smoke and ash.   I remember writing about their spirits hovering over the site, providing us with Courage to replace Fear, with Conviction to overcome Intimidation, and with Right Actions for the Children's Children's Children to quash the horrible effects of Complacency. 

Happy Birthday James Brown

      We let two young boys, about six or seven, one white and one black, edge up to the fence in front of us.   They were swaying to the music, within an arm's reach of the Godfather of Soul.    I never had any music idols, but these kids did.  They were into the music, their color and ethnicity dissolved by the commonality of James Brown's music.
      An added bonus for the crowd was the celebration of James Brown's birthday.   In the middle of the show, the band rolled out a cake.  Mary had earlier told me she didn't believe James Brown was only seventy years old.  She laughed and said he was going backwards.
      The icon of music blew out the candles and danced and sang.    His fabulous band and back-up singers plussed the show.  
      I forgot about the guys behind me whom I had challenged earlier, and even paid little head to about fifteen minutes of pelting rain that finally subsided.    I found myself immersed in the show.
      When James Brown brought out the flags and had us all sing God Bless America, I was impressed.  And, as his style, when he challenged the audience:  "Raise your hand if you love America....Raise your hand if you love America..." I found myself raising my hand along with thousands.

"If you don't love America, you can leave it"

       Then, when he dropped the bombshell, "Well, if you don't love it you can leave it," I felt a chill.
        James Brown could have easily ignored or given America a karate chop.   At 15 he was jailed for car theft, and after an arrest in 1998 stemming from drug and assault charges, he spent 2 1/2 years in jail.
        Another problem for him is that he is being sued by his two daughters, Yamma Brown Lumar, 29, and Deanna Brown Thomas, 33.  They claim they own the rights to 23 of his songs.
        For more than five decades, his performances have been marked by splits, slide gliding dance steps, and stop on a dime antics.  But, as he pushes into the seventh decade of life, his body is not what it used to be.   He has diabetes, a bad back, and complains his feet often hurt.   But, he doesn't carp to his fans.  "I smile instead," he says.

      In a way, America has been good to the Godfather of Soul.   Last week he was pardoned of the 1998 charges, plus additional ones for using a weapon under the influence.
       When James Brown was in jail, my wife wore a T-Shirt frequently that stated: "Free James Brown."  I understood why.   Locking up an American icon is a deficit for his fans.

       For a number of years, Brown has been using his skills to promote anti-violence among young people.  One of his songs, "Killings Out and Schools In," stresses love and understanding.
He wrote the songs after school shootings in Santana, Jonesboro and Columbine.

The Sentinels of Vigilance and James Brown "Feel Good"

        While not a chart buster like Brown's "Night Train," "Pappa's Got A Brand New Bag," "I Got You" (Feelin' Good), or "Living In America," he still promotes the Vigilance side of America.
        "I'm mad," he said in an interview in 2001.  "We're letting these kids get killed out here and we're not doing anything about it."
         Last night, however, James Brown did something about it.
         As he ended the concert, the marched around the stage and collected a handful of small American Flags he had placed among band members during his tribute to New York and the U.S.A.
        He gave the flags to the black and white boys, and to three little girls pressing up against the railing, arms outstretched toward the Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother Number One, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Mr. Dynamite.
        The children clutched the flags.
        They were red, white and blue.
        They were Flags of Vigilance, mementos not just of a great singer whose flashy smile and stage sweat have sparked the hearts of millions, but icons of a man who has learned the power of Vigilance over the bitterness of Terrorism.
         James Brown stood tall the other night for Vigilance.
         I could hear the Sentinels, just up the road at Ground Zero, singing with him:  "I Feel Good!"
         And I saw the magic of the Godfather in the eyes of the children, and the treasure they held close to their chests--the great present of Vigilance the Godfather had given them, tiny American flags.
        If they listen to the Godfather of Soul, they'll love America as he does, and not want to leave it.  


                                                                                   Feeling good with James Brown

Enjoying an evening with  the "Godfather of Soul" and sharing his love of America

May 27--American Youth Support U.S. Military

©2001 - 2004,, All rights reserved -  a ((HYYPE)) design