Saluting Soul Brother No. 1 at NJPAC

West Orange soul singer Bettye LaVette talks about touring with the legendary soul singer James Brown. Catch her at NJPAC on November 18.

West Orange soul singer Bettye LaVette, who toured with James Brown in the mid '60s, will participate November 18 in NJPAC's tribute to the Godfather of Soul as part of the TD Moody Jazz Festival.
West Orange soul singer Bettye LaVette, who toured with James Brown in the mid '60s, will participate November 18 in NJPAC's tribute to the Godfather of Soul as part of the TD Moody Jazz Festival.
Photo Courtesy of NJPAC

You don’t have to like someone to pay tribute to them. Just ask Bettye LaVette, who will be part of “Get On Up: A James Brown Celebration!” at NJPAC in Newark on November 18, part of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival.

“I hated James Brown immensely,” says the veteran soul singer and West Orange resident, who spent 32 days touring with the James Brown Revue in 1965. Her strong feelings about Soul Brother No. 1 stemmed from him “acting the whole time I was around him like he was better than everybody.” But LaVette didn’t let Brown’s hauteur diminish her appreciation of his immense talent. “I was always a great fan of his music,” she says.

“Get On Up” is the vision of bassist, NJPAC jazz advisor and Montclair resident Christian McBride, a five-time Grammy winner. The show was first staged in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl in 2014, where LaVette also performed. At NJPAC, she’ll be joined by vocalists Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, Ryan Shaw and Terrace Martin, as well as James Brown Band originals Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone) and Fred Wesley (trombone). A dance party will follow in the NJPAC lobby. Tickets are available at NJPAC’s website.

LaVette’s most recent album, Worthy, was nominated for a Grammy as best blues album in 2015. Her 50-plus-year career has included collaborations with stars from Otis Redding to Jon Bon Jovi. At President Barack Obama’s pre-inauguration concert in 2009, she sang Sam Cooke’s 1964 masterpiece “A Change is Gonna Come” with Bon Jovi.

For “Get On Up,” LaVette plans to sing the ballads “Try Me,” “I’ll Go Crazy” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” She hopes to deliver the same magic she brought to the 1965 tour, during which she says Brown asked her to stop singing her hit “Let Me Down Easy” because “I was stopping the show.”

Brown, she says, was always the perfectionist. “The way James constructed his show, no one was allowed to make any tenth of a degree of a mistake,” she recalls. “When we were rehearsing, if something happened, if somebody who was working for him did something wrong, your ass was out of there.”

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