With the January 2015 DVD release of Get On Up, the major motion picture about the life of James Brown and the current HBO documentary, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown, there’s no better time to plan a visit to the world famous soul singer’s hometown. A hotbed for arts and culture, the colonial city of Augusta, Georgia, has been welcoming guests since 1736 and continues to do so with artistic and historic points of interest and easy accessibility along Interstate 20, just 150 miles southeast of Atlanta.
James Brown was actually born in South Carolina near the beginning of the Great Depression, but he spent most of his youth in Augusta after his parents left him in the care of his Aunt Honey. Although he grew up in poverty—taking on menial and even back-breaking tasks as a child and young teen picking cotton, shining shoes, dancing for spare change and washing cars—these struggles did not deter the young, talented performer from achieving international stardom. At 13, Brown and two friends formed the Cremona Trio and sang for those passing by, and thus began the long musical career of “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”
Any exploration of James Brown’s musical legacy should begin at the Augusta Museum of History, founded in 1937 and home to the largest historical collection in the Central Savannah River Area, detailing Georgia’s second-oldest and second-largest city’s nearly 300 years of history. The museum houses the first and most comprehensive major exhibition dedicated to The Godfather of Soul. Learn about his music, life and commitment to community through concert footage, music, ever-changing costumes and other personal artifacts owned and worn by Brown, family photos, original vinyl albums and other unique memorabilia. The video below is a quick overview of the exhibit with narration by museum director Nancy Glaser and Mr. Brown’s daughter, Deanna Brown Thomas.
The Augusta Museum of History, located in the heart of downtown, also houses the Augusta Visitors Center in its lobby, where you can pick up a self-guided walking tour to find additional points of interest throughout the city.
Just a few steps from the museum, make sure to stop and have your photo taken with the life-sized James Brown Statue using the mounted camera. Your photo, a great, free souvenir, will be sent directly to your phone or email. The statue is located between 8th Street and James Brown Boulevard (9th).
Before leaving Augusta on world tours, Mr. Brown and his band, the Soul Generals, would rehearse at the Imperial Theatre. It is also where he held his toy giveaways to needy children at Christmas, a tradition that his family still continues today. The Imperial is one of the South’s most beautiful theatres, hosting music performances along with plays, ballets, comedies and more.
While in town, check the schedule of events at Augusta’s James Brown Arena, where more than 8,000 mourners gathered for a memorial service after Brown’s passing in 2006, including such notable characters as Michael Jackson, M.C. Hammer and the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Looking for a place to “Get on the Good Foot”? Stop in for a drink and dancing at the Soul Bar. An anchor landmark downtown, the lively venue is dedicated to the rhythm and soul of music and its biggest talents. The walls are filled with mementos and memorabilia celebrating the Godfather of Soul himself.
Want to eat at one of the Godfather of Soul’s favorite places? T-Bonz Restaurant, located minutes from the Augusta National Golf Club, offers a James Brown Corner. Ask the owner to whip you up one of the entertainer’s favorite dishes, and T Bonz’s features some of the best steaks in Augusta.
In the mood for seafood? Deshawn’s Seafood, located right over the Savannah River in North Augusta is run by Mr. Brown’s son-in-law and former bodyguard. Sometimes if guests ask, the family may share a personal story or two.
Augusta is proud to have played such an important role in the life of a world-renowned musical artist and is thankful Mr. Brown called Augusta his home. For more info on attractions, landmarks and accommodations, check out the VisitAugusta.com.