Carolyn West

(WOMENSENEWS)–James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” was back in jail on criminal domestic violence charges just two months after the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., awarded Brown a lifetime achievement award. He received the honor despite the protests of women’s rights advocates who claim that Brown’s history of domestic violence and sexual harassment should have disqualified him for the award.

Brown, 70, was released on bail on Jan. 29.He faces a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail for allegedly pushing his 34-year-old wife, Tomi Rae Brown, during an argument on Jan. 28 at the couple’s home in Beech Island, S.C. His trial is scheduled for later this month. Brown’s lawyers have requested a jury trial and jury selection may push the trial date back to March or April.

Albert “Buddy” Dallas, Brown’s Georgia-based attorney, said that Brown was “absolutely not” guilty of beating Tomi Rae Brown, a back-up singer. “It’s just amazing to me that these little differences that men and women have–and it happens everyday–if you’re a celebrity it makes the headlines,” Dallas told Women’s eNews in a telephone interview.

Dr. Carolyn West, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is an author on domestic violence in black communities, called Brown’s recent arrest and the award an “opportunity for us as a community to come together and start talking about domestic violence and sexual assault.”

But, she said, the black community maybe reluctant to criticize famous and powerful black men out of fear of reinforcing stereotypes that blacks are inherently violent. “How do you talk about these issues without reinforcing these stereotypes?” West asked, “But we can’t not talk about it.”

Since his arrest, Brown has filed for an annulment, claiming that Tomi Rae Brown remains married to another man. Dallas says that Brown performed with his wife last night in New York City.

Brown Honored Despite Violent History

“I wasn’t surprised. I knew it was coming,” Kay Mixon, a battered woman’s advocate in South Carolina who counseled Brown’s late wife, Adrienne Brown, told Women’s eNews.

Mixon met Adrienne Brown, at an emergency room in 1995. “She was all beat up,” Mixon recalled. Mixon urged Brown’s third wife to seek refuge at a shelter. But she refused and Mixon drove her home.

“That was the last time I ever talked with her,” Mixon said. Adrienne Brown died two months later apparently the result of complications from plastic surgery.

James Brown was charged with spousal abuse at least three times during their 10-year marriage, but those charges were dropped. Adrienne Brown met Kay Mixon after a beating she received on Halloween night in 1995. Those charges were dropped when Adrienne Brown died January 6, 1996.

When the Kennedy Center Honors were announced last August, Mixon joined the chorus of women’s rights advocates who protested Brown’s award. “Mr. Brown received the Kennedy Center Honors for his lifetime achievement in the arts for his music,” Tiki Davies, vice president for press with the Kennedy Center, told Women’s eNews.

“That is really sad. Your private life goes along with who you are, and what he is is not acceptable,” said Mixon, “He is a violent man.”

The awards ceremony took place on Dec. 7 and was attended by President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. Brown attended with Tomi Rae Brown. Rev. Al Sharpton, a Democratic presidential candidate, joined Brown and his wife.

Women Accuse Brown of Assault, Intent to Kill, Harassment

In September 1988, Brown carried a shotgun into an insurance seminar, briefly held it hostage, and then led police on a multi-state highway chase, for which Brown was fined $6,000 and sentenced to 6 years in prison. He was paroled after two years.

Months before that incident, Brown was charged with assault and intent to kill after being accused of savagely beating Adrienne Brown with a mop handle and firing a rifle into the car she was driving. Adrienne Brown later dropped those charges.

“This man has worked very diligently to turn his reputation around,” said Debra Opri, Brown’s West Coast lawyer, when asked about the incidents by Women’s eNews. Opri characterized Brown as a quiet Southern gentleman. “He’s very determined to let people know the real James Brown,” she said.

James Brown

Mixon thinks that the real James Brown is a wife batterer. “The real James Brown is not that man that curls his hair, and puts on the make-up, and puts on the clothes,” she said. “The real James Brown is the one you saw in that mug shot,” referring to a widely distributed police photograph in which Brown looked extremely disheveled.

In the years following his release from prison, charges of sexual harassment dogged the performer. Lisa Agbalaya, a former employee of Brown’s, sued Brown in 2000 for sexual harassment and wrongful termination. A divided jury failed to find against Brown on the harassment charges, but ruled that Agbalaya was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for a formal complaint of harassment she filed against Brown.

The judgment ordered his company, the New James Brown Enterprises, Inc., to pay $40,000 to Agbalaya in March of 2002. So far, the judgment has not been paid, said Matthew Herrell, one of Agbalaya’s lawyers.

In August 2000, Lisa Rushton, a former backup singer for Brown, filed sexual harassment charges against Brown, alleging that the performer demanded sex from her beginning in 1994. She says that when she refused, Brown retaliated by cutting her from performances and reducing her pay. Those charges were dismissed, according to Dallas.

Asjylyn Loder is a writer in New York.

For more information:

Dr. Carolyn West–Violence in the Lives of Black Women:
Battered, Black, and Blue: