Today is the birthday of soul singer-showman Mr. James Brown (1933-2006). Brown and his Famous Flames started out on the chitlin’ circuit, successor to black vaudeville. From Little Richard and the popular pro wrestler Gorgeous George he took the idea of wearing a flamboyant cape. On his signature 1956 number “Please Please Please” (which I believe is the only major pop song to ever contain only one word. Many have none, but only one has only one), the cape was worked into an elaborate, dramatic enactment of overwrought emotion…breakdown, despair, recovery, resurrection. That’s vaudeville.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc