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Victor Patton: An artist who transcended and challenged the boundaries

I remember the day in 1985 when I bought my first James Brown record. It was "Living in America," the single from the film "Rocky IV." The record cost me about $2 at Kmart, but the hours of joy I received listening to it as a kid were priceless.

I nearly ruined the turntable stylus listening to that record a million times -- all the while jumping around my bedroom, mimicking (or at least trying to mimic) Brown's agile dance moves, imagining myself wearing his sparkling sapphire suit and illustrious pressed hair.

That record also drove my poor mother crazy, as I couldn't help screaming the punchline of the song over and over again from the top of my lungs: "I Feel Good!"

Brown made everyone who experienced his music feel good -- or, shall I say, "Super Bad."

Hearing about his death on Christmas at age 73 gave me that intangible sense of sadness that occurs when a legend passes -- a sucker punch of grief that hits you even though you may not have known that individual personally, yet the impact they've had upon you makes it seem like a lifelong friend is gone.

I know I am not alone in this feeling. Today, as people here in Merced and as far away as Cape Town, South Africa, play the music of Brown, spirits are being lifted and silence is being transformed into audio bliss.

After all, there are few performers alive today, regardless of genre, gender, or age, who haven't been influenced in some way by Brown. Not Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, or even Madonna.

Without Brown, it's doubtful that American music -- or music anywhere for that matter -- would be the same. With the exception of pioneers like Chuck Berry or Little Richard, few artists today can make a claim to such equal significance.

Today's performers and rap stars also can learn a few pointers from the "Godfather of Soul." Despite the documented run-ins he had with the legal system, when Brown took the stage he was always a class act. Never would you hear a derogatory, demeaning or guttural term come from his mouth during a performance. He always made an effort to be a top caliber performer for all to enjoy.

It's fitting that Brown's body is lying in state at Harlem's Apollo Theater -- and not only because he performed there during the early days of his career. Brown was truly a king in the black community -- he was our royalty. Even though he held that larger-than-life title, he was never ashamed to say he was one of "us," which was reflected in the song "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)." At a time when civil rights workers were being beaten by angry mobs and black people were being subjected to segregationist policies throughout the South, Brown refused to be complacent as an artist and as a black man in America. It would have been so easy for him to remain silent, adhering to the same formula love ballads and dance songs. And no one would have respected him any less for doing so.

I was blessed with the opportunity in 2002 to see Brown live at the San Diego Street Scene. He was more than 30 minutes late appearing on stage, but it didn't matter. Nearly everyone in the audience stuck around because they knew something amazing and spectacular was about to happen. When he took the stage, even in his old age he still performed many of the same trademark dance moves.

I was just happy to see him alive. And I felt just like that kid dancing around his bedroom again.

Thanks for all the memories, James. We loved you and I know that big marquee in the sky is now bearing your name.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Patton is a Sun-Star reporter; he can be reached at 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com

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