Black Power Beyond the Dance Floor

How James Brown Made People ‘Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud’

Music has a way of shaping how people react at any given time. Whether happy, sad, angry or inspired, there is always a song to match one’s emotion. The 1960s was the era for soul music. It promoted forward movement and enhanced black pride.

In the 1960s, many black artists utilized music to reflect the injustice going on during that time period. As a result, the music influenced protest within the black community.”The movement was fueled by certain songs and certain groups that put a huge emphasis on pride,” said Sais Kamalidiin, assistant professor of music at Howard University.

The ultimate song of the sixties was “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” by the late James Brown. The hit came out in September of 1968 and went Top 10 on the Pop Singles chart, making it the first blatant song about black pride to receive that accolade.

“‘Say It Loud’ was a very powerful song,” Kamalidiin said. “The song contained two words that you rarely heard together in a sentence: ‘black’ and ‘pride.’ You would often hear the two words used separately but this was the first time they were used together.”

Due to Brown’s popularity and the relative sensitivity of whites with the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a few months earlier in April, the tune’s well-timed release affected a lot of people.

“The way the song was worded reveals the genius of James Brown because he knew the song would be controversial with whites,” Kamalidiin said. “So, Brown used children in the background chorus to soften the idea. And it makes perfect sense, because children are the future.”

A powerful voice in the black community, Brown’s tune helped quell riots that occurred after King’s assassination. He also raised eyebrows with his support of presidential candidates Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and Richard Nixon in 1972.

“People Get Ready” by The Impressions was released in 1965, the year that the Voting Rights Act was approved. The Impressions continued social consciousness with “Choice of Colors” in 1969.

Sly & the Family Stone pulled no punches in 1969 and became one of the many cultural icons of black social activism on the West Coast. Their “psychedelic soul” style of music included a mixture of pop and acid rock. Sly & the Family Stone’s most popular album in the ’60s was “Stand” – about taking a stand and being about something. However, another song that turned heads on the album, “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” brought some negative attention to the album and took away from its original intent.

R&B reached the masses with great help from whites who had passionate admiration of R&B music. Buddy Holly, for instance, performed music with an R&B texture, so much that it fooled black audiences when they saw him in person for live performances. He made way for his black musicians to succeed beyond his band.

White radio DJs like Wolfman Jack, Alan Freed and pop-rock stations like WLAC-AM in Nashville, Tenn., WABC-AM in New York and CKLW-AM in Windsor, Ontario, brought music to the mainstream. Black musicians and white radio DJs agreed that R&B music had to be presented by whites to be palatable to white audience, so their alliance worked to the benefit of black musicians; they got their music out, and white radio DJs got the chance to present the music they loved playing with the advantage of being the first to play the biggest hits by these acts.