Forget what you heard—there’s no place like Harlem. Uptown, baby, is where the magic happens and deferred dreams materialize.
Amid its streets is a hustle-and-flow state of mind that dominates as vendors vie for customers and various craftsmen peddle their services. In the middle of all the activity, nonchalantly sandwiched between a chain drugstore and a fast-food restaurant, sits the world-famous Apollo Theater. As one enters the historic venue, everything remains eerily quiet when no one is onstage. Then three of Hollywood’s hottest and most dynamic actors walk in, one by one, and suddenly, the whole vibe changes.
Surrounded by racks of gowns, furs, suits and jewelry, the stars of the new James Brown biopic Get On Up, Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis and Tika Sumpter, reminisce about portraying characters in the film everyone is going to be talking about. They embody the lush glamour and unadulterated sexiness of the ’60s in each of their roles, but this is the story of the Godfather of Soul, and they understand that they are here for a purpose: to pay homage to the man who gave us our first sip of funk, who made it all right to sing and shout how proud we are to be Black, who cemented his name as a legend on this very stage and in the fabric of American soul music.
Brown performed more than 200 times at the Apollo and produced and financed the first-ever “Live at the Apollo” recording in 1962. It went on to sell over one million copies. He was as shrewd a businessman as he was energetic an entertainer. But despite his fame, he endured genuine hardships as a child growing up in Augusta, Georgia. Abandoned by his mother at the age of 4, he was arrested and jailed as a teen on four counts of breaking and entering and larceny. And yet, along with the heartache of neglect, a slew of failed love affairs, an addiction to drugs, charges of tax evasion and rumors of domestic abuse, Brown’s immense musical talent led him to live a charmed life beyond his Southern field of dreams. He was a spirited personality who left the world with huge patent leather shoes to fill, and Chadwick Boseman gets the job done perfectly. In fact, there were 20 actors who tried to prove they had enough soul for the role; Boseman emerged as the victor. It’s hard to believe that only six years ago the Howard University alum adopted Los Angeles as his new home to pursue acting. His ascension from bit parts on All My Children, Lincoln Heights and Law & Order to leading man makes him somewhat of a proverbial “overnight success.”
Read the rest in the September-dated issue of EBONY magazine!