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CNN Classroom Edition: James Brown - Say it Proud

  • Story Highlights
  • Examine the legacy of James Brown
  • Identify the historical context of key events in Brown's life
  • Design an exhibit for a memorial to James Brown
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(CNN Student News) -- Record the CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: James Brown: Say it Proud when it airs commercial-free on Monday, December 22, 2008, from approximately 4:10-- 5:00 a.m. ET on CNN. (A short feature begins at 4:00 a.m. and precedes the program.)

Program Overview

CNN's Don Lemon reports the story of the James Brown that most people never knew. The man who rose from poverty to prosperity and from petty criminal to musical icon is known by many titles: "The Godfather of Soul," "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business" and "Soul Brother Number One" among them. Through interviews with the Rev. Al Sharpton, music legends Little Richard and Bootsy Collins, band mate Bobby Byrd and superstar Usher -- as well as Brown's family members, business manager Charles Bobbit and biographer Bruce Tucker -- Lemon reveals the sensitive and complicated character behind the cultural legend.

Teachers: Please preview this program, as its content may not be appropriate for all students.

Grade Level: 9-12, College

Subject Areas: Fine Arts, Social Studies


The CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: James Brown: Say it Proud and its corresponding discussion questions and activity challenge students to:

1. Examine the legacy of James Brown;
2. Identify the historical context of key events in Brown's life;
3. Design an exhibit for a memorial to James Brown.

Discussion Questions

1. Who was James Brown? What were some of his nicknames?

2. What were some of Mr. Brown's contributions to music? What are some of his hit songs?

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3. How would you describe James Brown's youth? According to the report, what challenges did he face in his youth? How did he deal with those challenges? In your opinion, how might Brown's upbringing have impacted his later life and his relationships with others?

4. Who is Bobby Byrd? According to the program, what important role did Byrd play in starting Brown's career? What led to the split between Brown and his band, the Famous Flames?

5. How would you describe the relationships among Brown and his band members? In your opinion, what were the benefits and drawbacks of being in James Brown's band? If you had the opportunity, would you have joined his band? Why or why not?

6. What was the status of race relations in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s? According to the program, what hardships did James Brown endure due to his race? In your opinion, is race still a factor for today's recording artists? Why or why not?

7. According to the program, what different types of music did James Brown perform during his career? Why do you think that his music changed over the years? What similarities, if any, can you find between the music he created and the music that you listen to?

Related Resources

  • Special Report: James Brown: The Real Story

8. Why do you think that Mr. Brown's music has endured over the years?

9. What are some of the legal troubles that James Brown encountered throughout his life? In your opinion, are the private lives of public figures newsworthy? Why or why not? Do the actions of artists influence your decision to buy their works? Explain.

10. If you could have interviewed James Brown, what would you have asked him? How would you define his legacy?

Suggested Activity

Refer students to online resources, including those listed, to learn more about the life and times of James Brown. After students complete their research, point out that Mr. Brown will eventually be interred in a public mausoleum.

Divide students into four groups and assign each group one of the following eras of Brown's life:

  1. 1933-1952
  2. 1953-1956
  3. 1957-1969
  4. 1970-2006

Direct groups to identify the key events that occurred in Brown's life during their assigned eras. Challenge each group to design an exhibit for Brown's memorial that reflects the significance of these events. Encourage students to identify artifacts from Brown's life that could be included in the exhibit. After groups have completed their designs, have them develop proposals for their plans and present them to the class.

Curriculum Connections


Music: Content Standard 8 - Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts

Music: Content Standard 9 - Understanding music in relation to history and culture

The National Standards for Arts Education,
( developed by the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, are published by ArtsEdge at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.


Standard I. Culture: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.

Standard II. Time, Continuity, and Change: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ways human beings view themselves in and over time.

The Curriculum Standards for Social Studies ( are published by the National Council for Social Studies (


Standard 3. Research and Information Fluency

Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. Students:

a. plan strategies to guide inquiry.
b. locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
c. evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.
d. process data and report results.

The National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for Students are published by the International Society for Technology in Education (


James Brown, funk, "The Godfather of Soul," "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," civil rights movement

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