As the Washington Post archly puts it, “There was no off switch on the ‘Sex Machine.’” So, rightly, upon legendary musician James Brown’s Christmas 2006 death, a lot of his far-strewn kids started coming home…with their hands out for a piece of the Hardest [Working] Man in Show Business’s estate.
Take, for example, LaRhonda Petitt, above, who, at the age of four, found out who her daddy was when her mom, Ruby Shannon, pointed him out on TV.
Ten years later, after her mother’s death — during surgery, in 1975 — LaRhonda worked up the nerve to call James Brown, tracking him down in a hotel room in Birmingham, Ala., in the middle of a tour.
“I wanted you to know that my mom passed away,” she told Brown, once he was summoned to the phone by an assistant.
“What you want from me?” he snapped. “I’m not your daddy.”
For a moment, LaRhonda had the sensation of falling through midair.
“My mama told me this,” she choked out, “and I’ll believe it till the day I die.”
Despite Brown’s proffer of what I’d call a typical paternal-out-of-wedlock dismissal,
LaRhonda never had doubts about the results. She believed the story her mother had always told her: that in 1961, when Ruby Shannon was 27, she had visited relatives in Los Angeles who took her to a James Brown concert, where she was approached by a man who asked if she’d like to meet Mr. Dynamite himself. A few weeks later, back in Houston, she started telling friends she was pregnant with James Brown’s baby. Most of them laughed.
DNA tests have certified that, as Maury Povich would say, “James Brown, you ARE the father!” In the process, Texas-based Petitt has hooked up with two other women, from Florida and Canada, who’ve also been certified offspring of James Brown.
Now begins the fun:
A circuit court in Aiken, S.C., has become the main stage for a probate fracas so complicated and bitter that some of the lawyers involved have hired lawyers and started suing one another. Brown had at least 10 children — including the three newly certified daughters — with at least seven women, only four of whom he had married. Or maybe it’s just three. The court has yet to determine whether the last wife, Tomi Rae Brown, was ever legally married to the guy (since she may never have annulled her previous marriage to a Pakistani man). Still undecided, too, is whether her son, James Brown II, is actually James Brown’s son. He was conceived after Brown claimed to have had a vasectomy.
All of these people were treated equally in Brown’s rather straightforward five-page will, which is to say that they were equally shafted. Well, not totally shafted. Six of his children were given the not-so-grand prize of the “personal household effects” in his mansion. The education of his grandchildren was taken care of through a trust. (Yes, the “new” grandchildren, too.) But the pot o’ gold — his home, music catalogue and the rights to market his name and image — were left to the I Feel Good Trust, to educate underprivileged kids in South Carolina and Georgia.
Believe me when I say what you’ve read doesn’t even begin to hint at the complexity of this case. If you need a diagram to keep track of the Brown family, here’s what the Post is offering up. Click on it for a slightly larger size: