Songs of Black Lives Matter: James Brown, "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud"

James Brown
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Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In the wake of nationwide heartache following the news of George Floyd's death, there is a growing urgency to support the Black Lives Matter cause. Generations of soul artists have contributed to the movement through anthemic songs of protest and statement albums that have begun and furthered the conversations addressing racism, violence and disillusionment.

In this ongoing series, we highlight the songs of the Black Lives Matter movement that launched and empowered people's pleas for a brighter future. Check back in weekly to listen and learn about the songs that have unified people throughout history to stand up for racial equality.

James Brown, "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud"

Four months after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Godfather of Soul reclaimed blackness with unabashed pride. Though the Civil Rights Movement and the tireless teachings of Dr. King had furthered the power movement of African Americans, derogative statements about blackness remained. 

Brown witnessed such derision as he saw people fighting in Los Angeles, and thought to himself, "We've lost our pride." Returning to his hotel room, he jot down on a napkin what would become the five-word anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement: "I'm black and I'm proud." 

ON THE SONG'S INSPIRATION: 

In his autobiography, Brown reflected, "It was necessary to teach pride then, and I think the song did a lot of good for a lot of people. "People called 'Black and Proud' militant and angry - maybe because of the line about dying on your feet instead of living on your knees. But really, if you listen to it, it sounds like a children's song."

He continued, "That's why I had children in it, so children who heard it could grow up feeling pride... The song cost me a lot of my crossover audience. The racial makeup at my concerts was mostly black after that. I don't regret it, though, even if it was misunderstood."

KEY LYRIC: "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud/ Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud/ One more time, say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud, huh!"

Released in August 1968, “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” became the crowning anthem of the civil rights movement. The single rallied to the top spot on the US R&B chart for a six-week reign and peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Aside from its commercial and chart success, the song held firm as a cornerstone to the changing tides within American society. As Public Enemy co-founder Chuck D recalled, "The sheer magnitude of 'Say It Loud' was an implanted, soundtracked theme into understanding that our minds, bodies, and souls were black and beautiful."

There are many ways people can support the movement against police violence and provide relief to the communities who have been impacted by police racism. Help the family of George Floyd HERE. Fight for Breonna Taylor HERE. Help the family of Ahmaud Arbery HERE.

Want to help protesters? Donate to one or more community bail funds HERE. Visit Movement For Black Lives for additional ways you can help the cause. Want to connect with leaders building grass roots campaigns? Click HERE. Are you an ally and want to learn more? Here are some anti-racism resources.

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