Elvis Costello Calls Ray Charles, James Brown “N Word” in Drunken Rant

Pop singer Elvis Costello found himself in hot water today (March 15, 1979), after making racist statements about Ray Charles and James Brown.

The singer was having a drunken, conversation at a Holiday Inn, in Columbus, Ohio when he made the comments to fellow singers with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett.

Apparently, the group of musicians were engaged in a heated debate, when Costello allegedly called Ray Charles a “blind ignorant nigger,” and made unflattering comments about James Brown as well, calling the singer a “jive ass nigger.”

Little did Elvis Costello know that Bramlett, who was white and broke ground in the early 1960’s with groups like Sam & Dave, Fontella Bass, Ike and Tina Turner and others, would take the comments to press, but not before she punched Costello in the face.

A few days later, Elvis Costello apologized for the remarks.

“It became necessary for me to outrage these people with about the most obnoxious and offensive remarks that I could muster,” Costello later said of the incident.

“There were over a hundred death threats to my person, necessitating the employment of armed bodyguards throughout the remaining dates [of his U.S. tour],” Costello said. “I left the U.S. having failed to explain myself to the satisfaction of the hysterical and, it must be said, delighted liberal press. The people I had supposedly slandered, Ray Charles and James Brown, had a much more generous view of these remarks, rightly putting them down to drunken idiocy.”

Shortly afterwards, Elvis Costello began working with a charity called Rock Against Racism.

In fact, his song “Riot Act,” from his 1980 album Get Happy!! was inspired by the incident.