James Brown.
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1968: Soul Music and the Year of Black Power

The summer's hit songs offered a glimpse into the changing views of Black America.
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When the dust settled a few weeks after King’s assassination, it was James Brown who sat atop the Billboard soul charts, but not with a song you might expect. “I Got the Feelin’” is mostly remembered for being featured on The Cosby Show and as the song that The Jackson Five used in their Motown audition tape. For Brown, who never had a number one pop hit during the course of his five-decade career, “I Got the Feelin’” was one of his highest charting pop songs, coming on the heels of his celebrated post-assassination concert in Boston where he was seen as tempering the anger of Black youth. As Albert Goldman wrote in the New York Times in June 1968, “To whites, James is still an off-beat grunt, a scream at the end of the dial. To Blacks, he’s boss—the one man in America who can stop a race riot in its tracks and send the people home to watch television.”

Brown was clearly at the peak of visibility, if not his creative power, and by the end of the summer of 1968, “Mr. Brown,” as his band always referred to him, would put that to the test.

During the summer of 1968 some of the songs that topped the soul chart captured the array of emotions that Black America was experiencing. The Intruders, “Cowboys to Girls,” produced by a then-relatively unknown duo of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for the even less-known label Gamble Records, seemed to pivot on childhood nostalgia. “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells of Houston, Texas—as they announce in the song’s intro—was some classic summertime funk based on a local dance called the “Tighten Up.” (Perhaps anticipating another Houstonian’s call for a “formation” nearly 50 years later.) Famously, Olympic Gold medalist Wyomia Tyus, was seen performing the “Tighten Up” in the moments before she stood on the blocks for the 100-yard dash at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
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