James Brown on the T.A.M.I. Show, 1964
One of my favorite all-time performances. Glad to see it being passed around so much lately, thanks to David Remnick’s appreciation in the New Yorker.
One thing I didn’t know:
This was the first time that Brown, while singing “Please, Please, Please,” pulled out his “cape act,” in which, in the midst of his own self-induced hysteria, his fit of longing and desire, he drops to his knees, seemingly unable to go on any longer, at the point of collapse, or worse. His backup singers, the Flames, move near, tenderly, as if to revive him, and an offstage aide, Danny Ray, comes on, draping a cape over the great man’s shoulders. Over and over again, Brown recovers, throws off the cape, defies his near-death collapse, goes back into the song, back into the dance, this absolute abandonment to passion.
Of course, James Brown, like so many soul acts, stole straight from the church:
That falling-to-the-knees-overcome-with-emotion dramaturgy is straight out of the Holiness Church, out of a belief system holding, in the charnel heat of the moment, that a person could be overpowered by a sudden tap from the Holy Ghost. Holy Ghost jumpers were what they called those filled with the spirit in the earliest days of Pentecostalism. It was a form of possession, of yielding with glory to a higher force. Many figures in the black Pentecostal tradition wore the cape.
There’s so many things I love about this performance — be sure to note towards the end how you can see the dust from the stage on James’ knees from falling down so much. Incredible.
You can get the full T.A.M.I show on DVD here.