Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul

James McBride (Spiegel & Grau)

He was The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. The Godfather of Soul. Mr. Dynamite and a dozen other monikers. James Brown was many things to many people. And when he died, his estate was estimated at more than $100 million, all of which Brown left for poor schoolchildren around America. More than eight years after his death, not a penny has gone to a single poor child. And while his body lies in a gilded coffin in his daughter’s front yard, the story of this iconic African-American entertainer lies with it, enshrouded in myth, legend and fiction.

National Book Award winner James McBride’s illuminating bio attempts to seek the man behind the myth, while also reflecting how his life helped to charge the fight for civil rights in America. McBride travels many dusty roads throughout the South to dissect this legend and seek out from where this complicated icon emerged. His interviews with those closest to Brown reveal never-before-known stories of his ascendance to the throne. McBride cuts away with the sharpest of knives the fallacies that have only served to obscure Brown’s place in American musical and cultural history.

McBride is a master wordsmith and this biography sings as it informs and entertains. It portrays Brown as a stubborn, controlling perfectionist in the studio and onstage, but also as a distrustful man who hid his millions in secret rooms and buried money in the ground. McBride shows Brown as a shape-shifting genius whose influence is still not fully realized. Compelling, hilarious and fascinating, McBride’s bio would surely make Soul Brother No. 1 shout, “I feel good.” Grade: A

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