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Digital Afro Media
Black History Month 2013 - James Brown "Say It Loud - I'm Black...
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Category: Black History

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Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” is a funk song written and recorded by James Brown in 1968. It is notable both as one of Brown’s signature songs and as one of the most popular Black Power anthems of the 1960s. The song was released as a two-part single which held the number-one spot on the R&B singles chart for six weeks, and peaked at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100. Both parts of the single were later included on James Brown’s 1968 album A Soulful Christmas and on his 1969 album sharing the title of the song.

“Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” was the first Brown recording to feature trombonist Fred Wesley, who went on to become the bandleader of The J.B.’s.

In the song, Brown addresses the prejudice towards blacks in America, and the need for black empowerment. He proclaims that “we done made us a chance to do for ourself/we’re tired of beating our head against the wall/workin’ for someone else”. The song’s call-and-response chorus is performed by a group of young children, who respond to Brown’s command of “Say it loud” with “I’m black and I’m proud!” Ironically, as the song was recorded in a Los Angeles area suburb, most of the children that Brown was able to recruit for the recording session were actually white and Asian, with only a few black children included in the ensemble.

The lyrics “We’ve been ‘buked and we’ve been scorned/We’ve been treated bad, talked about as sure as you’re born” in the first verse of the song paraphrase the spiritual “I’ve Been ‘Buked”.

Several other Brown singles from the same era as “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud”, most notably “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself)”, explored similar themes of black empowerment and self-reliance.

The song’s opening exhortation, “With your bad self”, is an example of linguistic reappropriation, and added a new entry to Brown’s long list of sobriquets: “His Bad Self.”

Place in Brown’s repertoire”Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” was an immediate and massive hit for Brown. It became a highlight of his concerts, where arena crowds would shout out the “I’m black and I’m proud” response section. However, within a year of the release of the studio recording it had largely disappeared from Brown’s concert repertoire, as he was concerned with how its message was being interpreted. In his 1986 autobiography Brown wrote:

The song is obsolete now… But it was necessary to teach pride then, and I think the song did a lot of good for a lot of people… People called “Black and Proud” militant and angry – maybe because of the line about dying on your feet instead of living on your knees. But really, if you listen to it, it sounds like a children’s song. That’s why I had children in it, so children who heard it could grow up feeling pride… The song cost me a lot of my crossover audience. The racial makeup at my concerts was mostly black after that. I don’t regret it, though, even if it was misunderstood.

Live recordings of “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” are included on the albums Motherlode (1988) and Say It Live & Loud: Live in Dallas, 1968 (1998).

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