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A shoeshine for the Godfather of Soul

Posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2009.

Earl and Ashley Reynolds

When Earl Reynolds, Jr. visited the StoryCorps MobileBooth, he told his daughter Ashley about the day the James Brown Revue came to Roanoke, VA. A caravan of 15 buses and close to 200 people stopped in front the family barbershop where Reynolds was a bootblack, or shoeshine boy. After stopping at the neighboring record store to check up on his newest single, The King of Funk himself walked into the Reynolds’ barbershop.

After shaking hands all around, James Brown took a seat on the stand and asked Reynolds to give him a shine. Although he was immaculate from head to toe, Reynolds dutifully re-shined his shoes. When Mr. Brown stepped down from the stand, he told Reynolds that he himself had started out shining shoes. He assured Reynolds that it was an honorable profession, and good work, but encouraged him to think about what he might want to do next. On his way out of the barbershop, Mr. Brown handed Reynolds a five spot. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” Reynolds recalled.

Although he was too young at the time to go see James Brown do his thing, their brief interchange stuck with him. His father had hoped he would take over the barbershop, but Reynolds instead decided to attended Fairfield State Teacher’s College where he graduated at the top of his class. He still lives in Roanoke today, where he is a community activist.

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