One of music’s most legendary figures, James Brown, was born in tough conditions near Augusta, Georgia before his rise to fame. He grew up with an aunt in a brothel and struggled to make money. He took up odd jobs, including singing and dancing. He was arrested for robbery at age 16, but it was in a juvenile detention center that he formed a gospel group that would start his music career. Called “The Godfather of Soul,” he had 17 number-one singles, including “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Get Up,” earning him the nickname “the hardest working man in show business.” The Augusta Visitor’s Center has a James Brown-themed map that fans can pick up to visit these landmarks related to his life and career.
James Brown Statue
Visitors to Augusta can’t miss a stop by the bronze life-sized statue of the Godfather of Soul between 8th and 9th streets downtown. It depicts him in the middle of his career and honors his achievements, including his induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Kennedy Center Honors. It’s a popular selfie spot that can send a photo from the camera set up there to your cell phone.
Augusta Museum of History
This museum has an incredible selection of artifacts related to Augusta’s history and its famous residents, including the only Masters jacket outside of Augusta National. But they also have an exhibit on James Brown, including items of his clothing like the over-the-top outfits he wore on stage and one of his Grammy awards. They have interactive exhibits with clips of his concerts and performances and family photographs donated by the Browns after his death.
Opened in 1918 as The Wells, the theater now called The Imperial was used for vaudeville and opera performances, hosting the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Anna Pavlova. When Brown was in town before leaving on tours, he and his band The Soul Generals would rehearse at this Augusta icon. In later years, he held Christmas toy giveaways here, another community tradition that carries on today.
The 2,000+ seat Bell Auditorium has been a popular venue in Augusta for decades, hosting Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and even Billy Graham. In 1961, Ray Charles canceled a scheduled performance at the auditorium when he learned that the venue would segregate his fans. It was at this auditorium where James Brown recorded his live album Sex Machine in 1970. It’s still a popular music and event venue, including for the annual Westobou Arts Festival.
James Brown Arena
Opened in 1980, this 8,000 seat complex has hosted a wide range of events, from concerts to sporting events to conventions. Musical names to share the stage include Van Halen, Cheap Trick, and Bon Jovi. When James Brown passed away in 2006, the arena held his public funeral with over 8,500 attendees and later renamed the facility in his honor.
- James Brown Boulevard- A section of 9th street was renamed for Augusta’s native son in 1993 since this is where Brown spent years shining shoes and singing and dancing for money. Dyess Park, on James Brown Boulevard, is where in later years he would give back to the community with Thanksgiving giveaways.
- Trinity CME Church- Located at 873 8th Street, this Christian Methodist Episcopal church is where a young Brown learned to play the piano
- Carpentersville Baptist Church- Set across the river in North Augusta, South Carolina, this is the site of Brown’s family church and was where his private funeral was held.