James Brown’s Daughter Releasing Memoir Detailing Domestic Violence
It’s no secret that James Brown had a dark side. This summer’s biopic Get On Up left out many of the weird, uncomfortable, and simply violent incidents that Brown instituted or participated in. But it wasn’t until now that we’ve been able to get a look at just how frightening the singer could be. Earlier this month, his daughter Yamma Brown published a memoir titled Cold Sweat: My Father James Brown and Me (co-written with Robin Gaby Fisher) that details her life growing up with her often volatile dad. In the excerpt below, Yamma flashes back to a moment when Brown beat her mother in front of her and her sister, then writes about how that violent legacy stayed with her into adulthood.
The beatings always begin the same way, with the same terrible sounds. My parents are in their bedroom, behind closed doors. First comes the boom of my father’s voice. “Dee Dee! Goddamn it, Dee Dee!” Then I hear what sounds like thunder rolling through the house. That’s Mom hitting the wall. I wait for her to scream, but she doesn’t. She whimpers. She must have learned long ago that screaming incites him.
I swear that during those fights, I could feel the whole house shake with my father’s crazy rage. Whenever he’d start, my sister Deanna and I would run for cover, usually in a closet or under our beds, and cry quietly into our cupped hands. I shook a lot as a kid. My hands. My face. My knees. A 5-year-old with tremors. As my grandma used to say, “Ain’t that just the saddest thing?” Sometimes the fights lasted only minutes. Sometimes longer. The monster would appear, wreaking havoc on our lives, and then the rumbling would stop and we’d hear our mother’s muffled cries.
After that, the house would go completely quiet. The sound of the silence was the worst because that’s when Deanna and I would wonder if our mother were alive or dead and if we would be next.
My father never beat us, but sometimes I think a beating would have been less hurtful than hearing the sounds of him using my mother as his punching bag. Sometimes I threw up in my hands when they fought. Usually I just shook like a damn leaf trying to hold on during a brisk fall breeze. When my father was in that crazy-ass way, everything was my mother’s fault. She couldn’t do anything right. When he started, she took it to the bedroom and closed the doors — I presume to spare Deanna and me from seeing her battered.
As much as I loved my father, and I sure loved him, I hated him during those times. And I didn’t like my mother much, either. I didn’t understand why she let my father treat her like that. If she couldn’t stand up for herself, how would she protect me? What if I slipped up and did or said something Dad didn’t like and he decided to turn on me, his little Yammacakes? I didn’t think he’d hurt me, but I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t possibly defend myself against a strong man like my father, especially not when he was in one of his rages.
After a while, I did what my mom did and acted as if the beatings hadn’t happened. I’d pretend the Browns were just like everyone else, a happily married couple with their two great kids.
But it was hard to pretend after I witnessed one of those brutal beatings, the first and only time I actually saw, and not just heard, the brutality that my father was capable of.
They definitely went out of their way to avoid this topic in the biopic.
Image via Brown Family