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.