Uh! With Your bad self!

From that first grunt,singer James Brown cemented his status as the Godfather of Soul. It was 1968, a time of political unrest and burgeoning racial achievement. And this ear-worm refrain had a beat and a message.

Say it Loud! I’m black and I’m proud

That refrain married Brown’s signature funk sound with the rising tide of racial pride among 60’s afro and dashiki wearing black Americans. All that came together in 1968, just 14 years after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education declared segregation unconstitutional.

But just as sure as it takes two eyes to make a pair,
Brother, we can’t quit until we get our share.

Alfred Pee Wee Ellis composed and arranged the music in a flash of genius at 3 am. It was recorded just four months after Martin Luther King’s assassination and reflected the shifting politics of black Americans. The song moved many to identify as black instead of Negro.

One more time, Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud, huh!

"Say It Loud" became known as the unofficial anthem for the nascent Black Power movement. It was ironic, given Brown’s conservative personal politics and support for Republicans like Richard Nixon. Brown may seem like an unlikely champion of nationalistic sentiment, but many of his hit records spoke truth to power.

I’ve worked on jobs with my feet and my hands
But all the work I did was for the other man

Somehow I’ve never relegated this song to the dusty bins of history. It doesn’t seem old, even though it was recorded 50 years ago tomorrow. And when I hear it, I still feel the sense of pride Brown hoped to convey. All that and you can dance to it? What’s not to like?

Look a here I’d like to say…

Brown was emphatic that the song was not anti-white but positively black. At many of his performances whites joined in singing the chorus.

But, most of all, Brown wanted this song to speak to the future, a future he wanted for the next generation far from his own desperately poor and emotionally damaged childhood. Years later, he would designate a significant part of his estate to fund childhood education for poor children.

That’s why, for me, the most important part of the lyrics is the catchy refrain sung by 30 children. No one is quite sure how Brown’s manager Charles Bobbitt scoured the black section of Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood for these children, who ended up in a middle of the night recording session. But it’s their full-throated enthusiasm that I believe elevated the song.

Say it Loud, I’m black and I’m proud!

"Say it Loud" was number one on the R&B singles chart for six weeks and rose to number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is listed in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame among “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll,” and on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of “500 greatest songs of all time.” It remains a powerful legacy for an artist, and a musical moment of pride for a community. It was a signature part of the soundtrack of 1968.