He's a political and civil rights activist, but the Reverend Al Sharpton was also a dear friend of the late singer James Brown. Gayle welcomes Al to the show to talk about and share personal memories of his mentor and father figure.
Al recalls his first meeting with James more than 35 years ago. At the age of 16, Al was leading a civil rights organization for youth in New York. It was there where he became friends with 16-year-old Teddy Brown, James's son. Shortly after, Teddy died in a car accident, and when James came to New York, he asked to meet the young preacher who was friends with his son.
"He says, 'I'm going to do a concert in memory of my son and I'm going to give you the money, and if you listen to me, I'm going to make your youth group the biggest youth group in the world, in memory of my son,'" Al recalls James telling him. "So we did the show—sold out. Two weeks later he brought me on Soul Train."
Al says that meeting the man whose concerts he attended with his own biological father was "surreal." "One, [James] was the biggest artist in the world at the time," Al says. "Secondly, it [brought back] the memories of my father. Thirdly, I really admired him. … I mean, I thought I was in the presence of deity."
When James found out that Al's father left the family when he was young, Al says James took it upon himself to act as his father figure. "Every two or three weeks he would send for me. … You gotta remember, I'm a kid living in the projects, my mom's a domestic worker, and overnight I'm flying around James Brown's private jet and everybody from Mick Jagger to Michael Jackson is hanging out backstage asking me can they see Mr. Brown. So I automatically have stature now!"
Al says James began trusting him with things that he didn't trust others with. In addition, James would counsel Al in any and all matters, and their father-son relationship grew. Al says he and James would talk frequently, and that James was a constant source of inspiration and encouragement in his life.
But Al says there was one area in James's life they never discussed: James's battles with the law, drugs and alcohol. "I'll be completely honest with you: He would not talk about a lot of that with me," Al says. "And people ask me why. And I say, 'Let me ask you a question: Would you talk to your child about your dark side?' He never wanted me to see that. I can't say that things didn't happen, I can only say that he wouldn't do that around me. Because you wouldn't do that in front of the people who you knew looked up to you."
Al was one of the first people notified when James passed away on Christmas Day. At 3 a.m., Al received a call from James's longtime personal manager who told him James had died. "I just [hung up] the phone and went back and laid down because I was trying to tell myself I was having a bad dream," Al says. "I couldn't go to sleep so I got up and went back to the cell phone…and I called [him] back and said, 'Did you just call me?' And he said, 'Reverend, wake up. Mr. Brown died an hour ago.' And just like that—no warning, no anything."
Al says he'll miss James's comfort and fatherly guidance more than anything else. "He would always have advice; he was like the guiding guy," Al says. "Even though I would have my own mind, he was the one person that could tell me something and I couldn't shut him up."