New ‘Walk of Fame’ inducts Brown, Knight

by Kalin Thomas Staff Writer | 5/10/2013, noon
Grammy Award winners Gladys Knight and the late “Godfather of Soul” James Brown are the first two inductees into what ...
Yamma Brown, daughter of the late “Godfather of Soul” James Brown, accepts an award for her father as he and Gladys Knight are the first to be inducted into the future Music Walk of Fame on Auburn Ave. (Photo by Vincent Christie).

ATLANTA -- Grammy Award winners Gladys Knight and the late “Godfather of Soul” James Brown are the first two inductees into what will be a “Music Walk of Fame” on historic Auburn Avenue.

Officials from the Sweet Auburn Music Fest made the announcement May 2, the day before what would have been James Brown’s 80th birthday, in front of the famed Royal Peacock.

“The Royal Peacock, in its glory days, is where every major black entertainer throughout America played, like Dinah Washington, Lady Day, James Brown, Otis Redding – you name it and they have played here,” said Steven Muhammad, Director of the Sweet Auburn Music Fest.

“And today we want to take two of those great names who are also native Georgians…and make sure their legacies survive throughout time.”

The announcement was made at a press conference to promote the Sweet Auburn Music Fest, which was rescheduled for May 18 - 19 because of last week’s thunderstorms.

Yamma Brown, one of the children of James Brown, accepted the award presented for her father.

“If my dad were here his first words would be ‘I feel good’,” shouted Brown to cheers and laughter.

“But in all seriousness, this would be tremendous for him. He was one of the first African Americans to own his own radio station and he loved that about Sweet Auburn because it was where African Americans could own their own [businesses],” added Brown, who works with the James Brown Family Foundation to promote music education in schools.

Knight was shooting a commercial and couldn’t attend the event, but an award was presented in her absence, along with a painting of her likeness.

“I love to immortalize people in the music industry with my art…and I’m so glad I got a little piece of my art as part of this revitalization,” said artist Neal Hamilton.

That revitalization is part of a plan for Auburn Avenue to be ready for more tourists when the Atlanta Streetcar trolley begins operating.

Officials expect to break ground for the Walk of Fame in October when construction for the trolley is finished.

The Walk will go east down Auburn Avenue from the Royal Peacock to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site Visitors Center, where tourists can already visit the Civil Rights Walk of Fame.

“We’re hoping you can take the new trolley that’s coming through from the National Center for Civil and Human Rights by Centennial Park and get off in front of the Royal Peacock and walk down the Walk of Fame and enjoy all of the attractions on Auburn Avenue,” said Muhammad.

In its heyday, Auburn Avenue was the center of black business and entertainment in Atlanta.

In fact, in 1956, Fortune Magazine named it “the richest Negro street in America.”

Along with the Royal Peacock, Sweet Auburn boasted the nation’s first black-owned radio station, first black-owned daily newspaper, second largest black-owned insurance company and Atlanta’s first black-owned barbershop.

“For too long we have ignored our historical sites, and it’s important for our kids to know our history. So I’m elated that we’re revitalizing Auburn Avenue, especially since so many progressive black business people came from this area,” said Cathelean Steele, whose husband Charles Steele Jr. is the Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), also located on Auburn Avenue.