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Get on Up: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd
based on the life of "The Godfather of Soul" James Brown

Chadwick Boseman
Born: February 9, 1982
Anderson, South Carolina, USA
James Brown
Born: May 3, 1933
Birthplace: Barnwell, South Carolina, USA
Death: December 25, 2006, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (congestive heart failure from pneumonia complications)
Nelsan Ellis
Born: November 30, 1978
Harvey, Illinois, USA
Bobby Byrd
Born: August 15, 1934
Birthplace: Toccoa, Georgia, USA
Death: September 12, 2007, Loganville, Georgia, USA (cancer)
Dan Aykroyd
Born: July 1, 1952
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Ben Bart
Born: December 26, 1905
Death: August 12, 1968, Long Island, New York, USA (heart attack)
Craig Robinson
Born: October 25, 1971
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Maceo Parker
Born: February 14, 1943
Birthplace: Kinston, North Carolina, USA
Jacinte Blankenship
Born: May 28, 1979
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Velma Brown (born Velma Warren)
Jill Scott
Born: April 4, 1972
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Deidre 'DeeDee' Brown (born Deidre Jenkins)
Tika Sumpter
Born: June 20, 1980
Queens, New York, USA
Yvonne Fair
Born: October 21, 1942
Birthplace: Richmond, Virginia, USA
Death: March 6, 1994, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States (undisclosed causes)
Brandon Smith
Born: May 29, 1989
Long Island, New York, USA
Little Richard (born Richard Wayne Penniman)
Born: December 5, 1932
Birthplace: Macon, Georgia, USA
Viola Davis
Born: August 11, 1965
Saint Matthews, South Carolina, USA
Susie Brown
Lennie James
Born: October 11, 1965
London, England, UK
Joe Brown
Tariq Trotter
Born: October 3, 1971
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Alfred 'Pee Wee' Ellis
Born: April 21, 1941
Birthplace: Bradenton, Florida, USA
Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth.
A man got those two things he's got it all.
-James Brown, 1986 (James Brown: The Godfather of Soul)

Questioning the Story:

Are Chadwick Boseman and the other actors the ones singing in the movie?

No. It's the real James Brown that we hear singing in the movie, which features remixes of his live and studio recordings (put together by the film's executive producer Mick Jagger). The songs can be heard on the Get On Up Soundtrack. For the recreations of Brown's historic concerts at the Apollo, Boston Garden in 1968, and the Paris Olympia, director Tate Taylor had the actors sing and play live on top of backing tracks. -Variety

Stillborn as a child, young James Brown (right) eventually went to live with his Aunt Honey like in the movie (left).
Had James Brown really been born dead?

Yes. According to the autobiography James Brown: The Godfather of Soul, the Get On Up true story confirms that James Brown was stillborn or at least appeared stillborn. His Aunt Minnie breathed into his lungs to help give him oxygen until he began to take his own first breaths. Much like Aunt Honey in the movie, it is a story that James Brown often told as evidence that he was able to overcome his obstacles even as an infant.

Was James Brown really deserted by his mother and father when he was a child?

To some degree, yes. James was born in a one-room sharecropper's shack near the Georgia border in South Carolina in 1933. His father Joe did have a gambling addiction and was away from home for long periods, eventually enlisting in the Navy (although not until James was older). Like in the movie, James went to live with his aunt, referred to as Aunt Honey (real name Hansone Washington), who ran a brothel.

His mother Susie's abandonment was likely less willful than the movie portrays. Friends say that she left because Brown's father had tried to kill her. The movie echoes this somewhat in the scene where Joe threatens her with a gun (in real life he is rumored to have tried to push her out of a window). Contrary to the movie, city records indicate that Susie lived with her son for periods of time as James grew up.

As a boy, was James Brown really paid to box other black boys while blindfolded?

Yes. Like in the movie, the autobiography James Brown: The Godfather of Soul supports the scene where a young James Brown is paid a dollar to exchange punches with other black boys. They were blindfolded with one hand tied behind their backs. A boxing glove was placed on the free hand, and they swung wildly trying to hit one another. According to Brown, these events were known as battle royals and were held for the comedic entertainment of the white audience.

Did the real James Brown go to prison at age 15?

Yes. The Get On Up true story reveals that a 15-year-old James Brown was arrested for stealing clothes from parked cars that he had broken into. This contradicts the movie a bit, which finds him stealing a single suit. In reality, he was charged with four counts of breaking and entering and larceny from an automobile. After turning 16, he was tried as an adult and sentenced to three years in a juvenile detention institution. Having been a member of his church choir prior to his arrest, Brown organized and led the prison gospel choir.

Did James Brown really meet Bobby Byrd in prison?

Yes. James met Bobby Byrd as a teenager while he was serving time in the juvenile detention institution. Byrd performed at the institution with his family's gospel group. However, Brown and Byrd actually met during a baseball game between the inmates and local members of the community. The two became friends and Bobby Byrd's family eventually helped to secure Brown's release, with the promise that they would take him in and get him a job.

The real Bobby Byrd and James Brown perform on stage together (bottom), and Nelsan Ellis and Chadwick Boseman portray Byrd and Brown in the movie (top).

Brown became part of Byrd's gospel group, the Gospel Starlighters, that also performed under various other names at the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Toccoa, Georgia. In addition, they put on shows at local auditoriums. After attending a rock & roll show, they made the decision to put gospel music on the back burner, transforming their group into the Flames (later renamed the Famous Flames). Their first single, "Please, Please, Please," reached No. 6 on the R&B charts.

Did James Brown really date Bobby Byrd's sister?

Yes. Like in the movie, James Brown did have a relationship with Bobby Byrd's sister Sarah. Though it is not shown in the movie, Sarah was also a member of the Gospel Starlighters.

Did Little Richard really persuade James Brown's group to make a demo record?

Yes. Little Richard, who Brown admired, put them in contact with his manager, Clint Brantley, who agreed to manage them and made plans for them to record a demo at a local radio station. They performed "Please, Please, Please," which in 1956 became their first R&B hit. After a string of unsuccessful follow-ups, they found a new manager, Ben Bart (portrayed by Dan Aykroyd, who shared the screen with the real James Brown in the 1980 John Landis comedy The Blues Brothers), and in 1958 their song "Try Me" became a national chart-topper, reaching Number One in R&B and Number 48 in pop.

A rare photo of manager Ben Bart with James Brown (right). The real Ben Bart taught Brown more about the business than is conveyed by Dan Aykroyd's Ben Bart character in the Get On Up movie (left).

Did several members of the group really quite because James Brown was given top billing?

Yes. Like in the Get On Up movie, the true story confirms that original group members Bobby Byrd, NaFloyd Scott, Sylvester Keels, Nash Knox and Johnny Terry left the group in 1957 due to group managers Ben Bart and Clint Brantley giving James Brown top billing, renaming the group "James Brown and The Famous Flames".

Did James Brown really finance his Live at the Apollo album himself?

Yes. The Get On Up true story confirms that King Records, believing that there was no commercial potential in a live album, refused to finance it. So, Brown paid for it himself and the album went on to sell a million copies, landing at Number Two in 1963. The Live at the Apollo album remained on the pop chart for 14 months, an unprecedented feat for a black music album at the time.

Did James Brown's mother Susie really show up unexpectedly at his Live at the Apollo performance?

This scene was most likely made-up for dramatic effect. In reality, James Brown's then-wife Velma Warren tracked down his mother Susie in Brooklyn in the mid-1960s and revived their relationship.

Did he really make his bandmates refer to him as "Mr. Brown"?

Yes. Like in the movie, he made his bandmates (a few of whom were longtime friends) call him "Mr. Brown." He would also fine musicians for missing notes and made them improvise on the spot during shows. "You had to think quick to keep up," said one of his musicians (

The real Maceo Parker and James Brown perform together (top). Actors Craig Robinson and Chadwick Boseman portray saxophonist Maceo Parker and singer James Brown in the movie (bottom).

Did the plane James Brown was on really almost get shot down while flying over Vietnam?

No. We found no evidence supporting the movie's depiction of the transport plane James Brown was on being nearly shot down when he was flying into Vietnam. That's not to say that they were never in danger.

"I was scared to death," says singer and former girlfriend Marva Whitney, who Brown brought with him to Vietnam. "...especially in the planes when they, every now and then we could kinda peep out the window and it's something to look up, down, and all you see is fire, fire, and then they tell you you have to lay down in the belly of the plane. So we laid down. We were very obedient cause we didn't want to get shot. And I think he felt comfortable if he had at least a stick, to fight in case somebody came, and he said, 'I must have a stick to protect myself.' I was very glad that he did. -Soul Survivor - The James Brown Story

Did James Brown really have all of the nicknames that he has in the movie?

Yes. Most people have heard James Brown referred to both as "The Godfather of Soul" and "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." However, during his lifetime he was also given or gave himself the nicknames "Mr. Dynamite," "Superbad," "Minister of New New Super Heavy Funk," "Soul Brother Number 1," "The Original Disco Man" and "Little Junior," the latter when he was a child living with his Aunt Honey. Certainly, there were others.

Did James Brown really threaten a group of people with a shotgun and then lead police on a high-speed chase?

Yes, however, there is no evidence that he actually shot a hole in the ceiling. On September 24, 1988, James Brown walked into an insurance seminar in Augusta, Georgia carrying a shotgun and told everyone to leave. He was supposedly upset that someone had used the bathroom in his office, which was located in the same office complex as the seminar. He fled in his pickup truck and led the police on an interstate car chase until they eventually had to shoot out three of his tires. He was subsequently sentenced to six years in a work-release program but was paroled in 1991 after serving only two.

How many top-10 singles did James Brown have?

Over the course of his recording career, James Brown had seven songs crack the top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100, including "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)," "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," "Cold Sweat," "Living in America," "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" and "I Got the Feelin'."

James Brown and Mick Jagger chat at the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964 (left). Mick Jagger visits Chadwick Boseman (in character as James Brown) on the set of Get On Up. Jagger was one of the film's executive producers. He helped put together remixes of Browns songs to use in the movie.

How many wives did the real James Brown have?

The Get On Up movie features two of James Brown's three wives, including his first wife Velma Warren (1953-1969) and second wife Deidre (DeeDee) Jenkins (1970-1981). Longtime wife Adrienne Rodriguez (1984-1996), who he was still married to in 1993 when the movie's timeline ends, is not included in the film.

Not long after the death of his third wife in 1996, Brown hired Tomi Rae Hynie as a background singer and the two soon began dating. They held a wedding ceremony in 2002, which would have resulted in Brown's fourth marriage, but the nuptials were not valid under South Carolina law because Hynie was still married to Javed Ahmed, a Bangladesh man who she had helped get a Green Card.

I heard that Rev. Al Sharpton was one of James Brown's managers, is that true?

Yes. Though not included in the Get On Up movie, Rev. Al Sharpton was James Brown's road manager at one time. -The Augusta Chronicle

James Brown Performances, Interviews & Related Videos

Expand your knowledge of the Get On Up true story by watching interviews with the real James Brown, in addition to viewing him performing some of his most well-known hits. Lastly, check out the Get On Up movie trailer.

 James Brown - Please, Please, Please

"Please, Please, Please" was recorded by James Brown and The Famous Flames and was released as a single in 1956. It was the group's first recording. As the story goes, Little Richard wrote the words "please, please, please" on a napkin and James Brown was determined to make a song out of it.

 James Brown T.A.M.I. Show

Watch James Brown's full T.A.M.I. Show performance from 1964. The T.A.M.I. Show (Teenage Music International) is a 1964 concert film recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The footage of the announcer being sprayed with a fire extinguisher just prior to introducing "James Brown and His Famous Flames" is featured in the Get On Up movie. Like in the movie, The Rolling Stones followed James Brown, a choice that Rolling Stones band member Keith Richards has said was the biggest mistake of their careers.

 James Brown - I Feel Good

This performance of his hit song "I Got You (I Feel Good)" was recorded in Italy in 1989 at the Legends of Rock 'n' Roll concert, which also featured Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Little Richard and B.B. King. Brown released "I Got You (I Feel Good)" as a single in 1965 and it became his highest charting song.

 James Brown - Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

James Brown singing "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" on the 1960s TV show Shindig!. The song was released in 1965 and was Brown's first song to hit the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100. It also won Brown his first Grammy Award, taking home the title of Best Rhythm & Blues Recording.

 James Brown & Luciano Pavarotti - It's a Man's World

Filmed in 2002, this concert performance of "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" features The Godfather of Soul James Brown performing with Luciano Pavarotti. The song was originally recorded in 1966. It was written by Brown's onetime girlfriend and co-writer, Betty Jean Newsome, based on her observations regarding relationships between men and women.

 James Brown - Living in America

Watch the 1986 James Brown "Living in America" music video. The song was featured along with Brown himself in the 1985 boxing movie Rock IV starring Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren. "Living in America" won Brown a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

 Get On Up Trailer

View the Get On Up movie trailer for the James Brown biopic starring Chadwick Boseman. The movie chronicles James Brown's rise from poverty and abandonment to become one of the most well-known and iconic musicians in history.

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