• Chester B Simpson

Meeting James Brown

Updated: Apr 17

Pants halfway undone, I burst through the door only to be greeted by a big smile and curlers. Standing there, James Brown took one look at me and asked, “Boy what you want?”


Newsweek Magazine gave me an assignment in 1980. I was to head up to San Quentin State Prison to get pictures of James Brown performing for the inmates. I ended up running late but nonetheless made it through to the back staging area after getting past all the security checks where they inspected my camera thoroughly.

Since I had been running late, I didn’t have a chance to relieve myself before leaving my apartment. I turned to the closest security guard who pointed me in the direction of the closest bathroom, telling me it was the first door on the left. I darted down the hall already loosening my belt, eager to take care of my business.

Pants halfway undone, I burst through the door only to be greeted by a big smile and curlers. Standing there, James Brown took one look at me and asked, “Boy what you want?” Embarrassed, I told him I was looking for the bathroom before he directed me across the hallway.

After using the facilities, I went back for a proper introduction. I told Mr. Brown I was the Newsweek Photographer, and I was here on assignment to cover his concert. Luckily, he didn’t hold anything against me, despite me bursting into his room unannounced with my trousers partly undone. He invited me to hang out backstage with him before he performed.

I covered the show at the prison, getting many great images of James Brown’s performance. The prison show ended but Mr. Brown was far from finished. He had another gig that evening, performing at a San Francisco nightclub called the Stone. He allowed me to tag along and take more pictures of him performing there as well. On more than one occasion he got so close to my camera, dancing, and singing right in front of my lens, allowing me to get some absolutely stunning close-ups. I was impressed. He was one of the hardest working men in show business, that was for sure.


Check out my photographs from this story: James Brown Gallery

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