Friday, May 25, 2001

Isleys drop out; Brown struts in

But Taste still faces protests

By Larry Nager and Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, is the third R&B act booked to open Taste of Cincinnati Saturday in the face of plans by a group of clergy to boycott the downtown food festival because of racial tension in the city.

        Mr. Brown, who recorded dozens of hits for Cincinnati's King Records in the '50s and '60s (“Please Please Please,” “I Feel Good”), was booked Thursday.

        He replaces fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members the Isley Brothers, the Cincinnati-born group that canceled their appearance early Thursday because of the planned boycott.

[photo] The hardest working man in show business will open Taste of Cincinnati.
(File photo)
        To get to see the soul singer, festivalgoers will likely have to pass through protesters at the 22nd annual event that begins Saturday. Boycott organizers are vowing to picket and leaflet on the fringes of the Central Parkway event all three days.

        Taste of Cincinnati organizers learned just before noon Thursday that the Isley Brothers would not be there.

        Within an hour, Mayor Charlie Luken was on the phone with Mr. Brown.

        “He accepted the idea that this event was designed to heal the community and he wanted to help,” said Mr. Luken.

        Mr. Luken said he “laid out clearly” for Mr. Brown the situation he would be coming into — a city rocked by rioting in April, continuing racial tensions and the planned boycott.

        The signed contract for Mr. Brown was delivered to the mayor's office by midafternoon Thursday.

        “The mayor has called on James Brown to come and spread a little peace there,” said Maria Moon, executive director of promotions for James Brown Enterprises.

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        “We're all aware of the boycott but the main thing that James Brown is looking to do is have peace. He's not there for politics, all he's looking to do is to stop violence,” said Stu Ric, president of Mr. Brown's label, Fome Records.

        The planned boycott is in response to the April 7 shooting death of Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black man, by a Cincinnati police officer.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, who has been at odds with city officials over his insistence that downtown events be boycotted, said he received a call Thursday morning from the Isleys saying they would not come.

        “The Isleys told me they had received a multitude of calls from family and friends they grew up with in Lincoln Heights who told them this is not a time for celebration, but a time to stand up for the community in protest,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said.

        The Isleys had replaced Midnight Star, the Cincinnati group that earlier this week canceled because of the boycott.

        The Isley Brothers were to take part in opening ceremonies, singing the national anthem. They were initially unaware of the controversy surrounding the event.

        “I had no idea what I was performing at,” said Ronald Isley, a founding member of the group that began in Lincoln Heights churches in the '50s. “I thought I was performing at a baseball game.”

        He said friends in Cincinnati called him about the boycott and he called the Rev. Mr. Lynch to discuss it.

        “I was asked to cancel and I'm going to respect that,” Mr. Isley said Thursday morning from California.

        Meanwhile, Taste organizers braced for the possibility of demonstrations.

        “Obviously, there are people hell-bent on bringing this event down,” Mr. Luken said. “Whatever measures we try to take in a positive way, somebody is going to try to counter them.

        “But this event is going to go forward, no matter what. There is nothing more appropriate at this time for this city than for people to come together at an event like this.”

        A Group of Concerned Clergy has been meeting daily in preparation for this weekend's boycott at Taste. The Rev. Mr. Lynch said he anticipates a “large number” of ministers and their congregations to support the boycott.

        The clergy group has been busy preparing pickets and leaflets for protesters.

        The Rev. James W. Jones, first vice president of the Baptist Ministers Conference, said some protesters will be lined up along Central Parkway, while others will be strategically placed along adjacent streets surrounding Taste. He said he doesn't anticipate any violence. The clergy, he said, simply want to get their message out.

        “The message is that a lot of people in this town are fed up,” the Rev. Mr. Jones said. “We want people to know that this is not a time for parties and festivals. It's time to get down to solving the very serious race issues that face our city.”

       Enquirer reporter Kevin Aldridge contributed to this story.


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