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In his lifetime, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, was said to love astronomy.
It seems only fitting, then, that South Carolina State University’s I.P Stanback Museum and Planetarium would be the temporary home of his “Preserving the Legacy” exhibit — one of only three locations where Brown’s personal items can be found. (The Augusta Museum and the South Carolina State museum are the others.)
When I first heard about the Brown exhibit in Orangeburg, S.C., I set my mind to do the famous “get up, get on up” dance as soon as I hit the museum floor. Wishful thinking, I guess.
Walking into the exhibit, visitors don’t enter to the upbeat sound of Brown’s famous lyrics. The first thing you see is a black-and-white graphic of his face, made from the words from some of his songs.
This graphic shows Brown as everyone knew him: head leaned back, eyes closed and mouth open to hit a crazy note or to merely hit his fans with a “hey!” Ingrid Owens, the museum’s program director, said a visual arts professor designed the word portrait.
Lining the wall are enlarged concert flyers, posters, magazine and album covers. But the official entrance begins when you walk through an enlarged picture of Brown’s mansion gates and stand facing an enlarged picture of his white mansion.
The idea is to make you feel as if you’re walking into the home of the Godfather of Soul, Owens said.
Once inside the gate, in a corner of the room you see Brown’s armchair with a dark housecoat and a wooden cane draped over each arm. Above it hangs a stunning still painting of Brown in a navy-blue suit and black turtleneck, his well-groomed and pressed dark hair intact.
Then there are the suits. Those glimmering, colors-of-the-rainbow suits. There is an entire room dedicated just to Brown’s costumes. Each suit has a matching photo of him wearing it.
The suit concept came from museum director, Ellen Zisholtz. While looking through some of Brown’s photos, she noticed that some of the suits on display were the same suits shown in the pictures. She found more than 30 suits that had matching photos of Brown.
Two things made me chuckle as I toured the exhibit: a wall display of Brown’s four wives — Velma, “Deedee,” Adrienne and Tomi — and a display of the ragged green-and-blue bath robe Brown wore in his infamous 2004 arrest photo (insert). These two were near the end of the display.
The exhibit shows some of Brown’s personal photos, pictures of him with family and famous friends like MC Hammer, Shaquille O’Neal and Patti LaBelle. It also has a wall of artwork that Brown’s fans drew for him, along with numerous awards and trophies.
The exhibit includes a two-hour film shown on a large screen in the museum’s theatre. Ellen Mayo, planetarium manager, created the film after sorting through Brown’s video archive. An hour of the video was an actual documentary Mayo found, and the rest of the show was Brown’s trip to Senegal, West Africa.
The exhibit took three weeks to prepare, Owens said. It opened earlier this year and will will end September 3, with a possible extension to the end of the year.
IF YOU WANT TO GO
Address: 300 College St NE, Orangeburg, S.C., 29117
Drive Time: About 2.5 hours
Hours: Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Weekends and evenings by appointment)
Photo below: Some of James Brown’s shoes on display at the “Preserving the Legacy” exhibit, South Carolina State University. (Photo: Lauren Benjamin for Qcitymetro.com)
Photo below: Some of James Brown’s clothes on display at the “Preserving the Legacy” exhibit, South Carolina State University. (Photo: Lauren Benjamin for Qcitymetro.com)