This is so important
What’s it like to work alongside so many other women of color?
“I was going on a train from Manchester to London and I was looking out of the window at some cows, I believe, and I just thought: “Boy doesn’t know he’s a wizard - goes off to wizard school.” I have no idea where it came from. I think the idea was floating along the train and looking for someone and my mind was vacant enough so it decided to zoom in there.”
One of my favorite all-time performances. Glad to see it being passed around so much lately, thanks to David Remnick’s appreciation in the New Yorker.
One thing I didn’t know:
This was the first time that Brown, while singing “Please, Please, Please,” pulled out his “cape act,” in which, in the midst of his own self-induced hysteria, his fit of longing and desire, he drops to his knees, seemingly unable to go on any longer, at the point of collapse, or worse. His backup singers, the Flames, move near, tenderly, as if to revive him, and an offstage aide, Danny Ray, comes on, draping a cape over the great man’s shoulders. Over and over again, Brown recovers, throws off the cape, defies his near-death collapse, goes back into the song, back into the dance, this absolute abandonment to passion.
Of course, James Brown, like so many soul acts, stole straight from the church:
That falling-to-the-knees-overcome-with-emotion dramaturgy is straight out of the Holiness Church, out of a belief system holding, in the charnel heat of the moment, that a person could be overpowered by a sudden tap from the Holy Ghost. Holy Ghost jumpers were what they called those filled with the spirit in the earliest days of Pentecostalism. It was a form of possession, of yielding with glory to a higher force. Many figures in the black Pentecostal tradition wore the cape.
There’s so many things I love about this performance — be sure to note towards the end how you can see the dust from the stage on James’ knees from falling down so much. Incredible.
You can get the full T.A.M.I show on DVD here.
A Young Child Named Maya Rudolph
In 1975 I had just come off a brief tour I was on with a band that was opening for Joe Walsh, when Irving Azoff’s company, Frontline Management, which managed Walsh suggested I’d be a good fit to tour with Minnie Riperton.
They were right; when I met Minnie I felt I’d met a long lost older sibling, and would continue working for her after she left Azoff’s management, and throughout the remaining years of her career.
Besides a voice seemingly from heaven, she had the most delightful family as well. Her two children Marc, and Maya were a joy, and her husband, Richard Rudolph, who still to this day, is one of nicest people you could ever meet.
I was just in my early 20’s, toting around a Hasselblad camera wherever I went. When I was working as Minnie’s tour manager, I rarely had the time, or situation to formally photograph her. Although I always had my camera, I was still a very young photographer, and had not yet developed the skills to capture what it was I saw in her, so my collection of photographs of her is limited.
However, during our off time off from touring, I was often at their home around her family and photographed Maya frequently. Most children get very antsy in front of a camera, but she seemed to be fascinated with the photographic process. She held a firm gaze and always seemed to be studying this photographic process very closely, so I’m not at all surprised that she’s become one the finest comedic actors working in front of a camera today.
I’m also not surprised that Maya found her way into comedy. What few people may know about her mother is that Minnie was one of the most hilarious women you’d ever meet. She had a wry, even ribald wit that would totally disarm the coolest of characters, the biggest record producers, and the most pompous industry executives of the day.
Maya was five or six years old in this photograph. It was taken at their home in Westwood, CA near the UCLA campus. Maya in her swim suit, sitting in front of the TV with a vintage cable TV box, near a baseball bat & glove, while Minnie in one of her flowing dresses steps out of frame right, and “Sparkle” their devoted Standard Poodle slips by behind her.
This photograph captures so much of the special warmth, and familial connection I experienced at their home during those days. They were a very special family, whom I will always appreciate how generously they brought me into their lives.