42 years ago to the day, legendary soul singer James Brown graced the hallowed stage of the Grand Ole Opry with one of his famous live performances.
“The Godfather of Soul” was well-known for his electrifying, high-energy concerts throughout his decades of touring. He traveled relentlessly playing shows all over during his more than 50-year career. He captivated audiences around the world with his showmanship and dancing while he sang hit after hit.
Of course, no show would be complete without a helping hand from Brown’s famous cape man. At each concert, Brown would drop to his knees from emotion and exhaustion as he sang. His cape man would run out on stage and drape a cape over Brown’s shoulders. The pair would act as if they were heading off stage, but then Brown would throw the cape from his shoulders and return to the song with even more gusto than before.
As “the hardest working man in show business,” Brown covered every inch of the United States during his career. When fans think of Brown’s performances though, they likely think of his shows at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. However, James Brown could hook any crowd, even a country music-based one.
On March 10, 1979, “Soul Brother No. 1” took over the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. The lucky audience enjoyed his covers of country classics like “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Tennessee Waltz.” Yet they were less appreciative of his own classic hit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and controversy ensued.
James Brown Shakes Things Up at the Opry
The Grand Ole Opry crowd typically has certain expectations when they attend a show at the famous venue. Most are expecting to see some of their favorite country acts. Additionally, the lineups are typically family-friendly and not too rowdy.
Even though country star Porter Wagoner asked James Brown to perform at the Opry, not everyone was as welcoming. In fact, the Memphis Press-Scimitar published this headline leading up to his appearance: “Invitation to Soul Singer James Brown Brings Disharmony to Grand Ole Opry.”
Supposedly, the Opry crowd that night enjoyed Brown’s renditions of a few country classics. In contrast, the audience couldn’t stand “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” with Brown’s leg splits and microphone tosses included. Rock historian Ed Salomon was there that night and told Community Voices that the R&B singer got booed for rocking too hard.
“The audience reacted positively to Brown’s first songs. It was only when he augmented the band with additional musicians and began ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’ that he got booed. Some reporters tried to make that a racial comment but it was not; it was only in response to inappropriate material,” wrote Salomon.
In addition, Opry fans supposedly complained that Brown went over his 30-minute scheduled set. But Wagoner confirmed that the singer only played for about 17 minutes. Regardless of his controversial Opry performance, Brown was honored to play at the famous country venue. He even stuck around and greeted fans backstage afterward.
“I always have loved country music ever since I was a kid and listened to the radio in Augusta,” Brown said to Rolling Stone. “Country music really is just the white man’s blues.”