Saturday, December 30, 2006

Black Caesar (pt. 1)

They came not to bury James Brown, but to praise. And to witness.

Cartoonist and album-cover artist Ronald “Stozo” Edwards, a member of the P-Funk mob since the ‘70s, was up in Harlem on Thursday for James Brown’s final visit to the Apollo. Here’s what he writes:
RONALD “STOZO” EDWARDS (a.k.a. STOZO THE CLOWN): It was not easy for me to avoid a sentimental tear as I arrived at the James Brown wake. The famous Apollo Theater was the first public stage I ever performed on (as the “SnowMon” character in Parliament-Funkadelic’s way-off-Broadway production called “Popsycle Stix,” later known as the Gloryhallastoopid Tour).

I remembered me and Maceo Parker (J.B.’s former lead sax player) going across the street to the Daddy Grace Church between matinees on Saturdays, as we performed at the Apollo for a whole month. The whole P-Funk Mob used the cafeteria at that church as our official lunchroom. (They cooked some of the best soul food in Harlem!) Maceo always had a story to tell about the Apollo and, of course, the Godfather of Soul.

Seeing all the people on Thursday, all the black people… hearing the songs, James’s music coming out of cars, stores, radios, ringtones… voices, people singing, chanting… Cold Sweat, Say It Loud, Gonna Have A Funky Good Time… it was like being at a James Brown World’s Fair! Me, one of his biggest admirers, there to launch our Black SuperHero into that land where we all are sure to go… yo!

There were impersonators like for Elvis, the media (mostly all white people), and an older crowd, mostly African-American women and men, patiently awaiting the last dance with Soul Brother #1. Looking at this massive amount of happy mourners caused me to have goose bumps. I felt real history again, like when watching JFK’s and Martin Luther King’s funeral processions on black-and-white TV as a kid funkadelic. This time I was right there!

When the two white horses arrived, with the white carriage and James Brown’s golden coffin, surrounded in a sea of black faces, cameras flashing, cellphones clicking, people shouting, the glee of a dedicated community for a SuperBadd Hero… we were witnessing maybe the last real African-American leader. I was proud… Black and Proud! And filled with “tears of a clown” for the Godfather of Soul.

The end of my adventure this day was when I returned home, passing B.B. King’s Club on 42nd Street, where James Brown was scheduled to play on New Year’s Eve. There was a tribute goin’ on out front of the venue. People were dancing, his music was playing, and there were posters and banners being signed by many. I had to stop and leave my trademark Stozo The Clown signature and a caricature cartoon doodle of James Brown doing the “camel walk.”

BTW… James Brown came to the production of “Popsycle Stix” at the Apollo, dressed in a black mink coat. I remember saying hello to him as he came backstage through the green room with two bodyguards. He was there to see our P-Funk show, and probably MACEO blow his horn. Unforgettable!

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