Charles “Big Saul” Greene didn’t have the longest career as a DJ in Macon, but it was certainly one of the most impactful.
As part of the legendary “Three Horsemen” of WIBB -- along with Hamp “King Bee” Swain and Ray “Satellite Papa” Brown -- Greene helped popularize rhythm and blues in the 1950s and early ’60s, giving exposure to such artists as James Brown and Little Richard.
Greene, 89, died Sunday night in Altamonte Springs, Fla. He had been suffering from stomach and liver cancer, as well as dementia, his family said.
Greene, a Jones County native, played a critical role in the early stages of James Brown’s career, according to news accounts. Greene loaned James Brown $100 so that Brown and his band could perform some shows in Florida.
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Brown couldn’t pay the money back, but Greene ended up convincing WIBB owner Thomas Maxwell to allow the singer to record his song “Try Me” at the studio. Greene paid $25 to get five records of the song pressed, and the song became Brown’s next hit.
Greene’s daughter, Tashia Greene Phelps, said Wednesday that she and her brother, Krishna, used to receive watches and T-shirts with James Brown’s face on them from the singer’s convenience stores in Macon.
“They remained friends,” she said of James Brown and her father. “My father even visited (Brown) when he was in prison (from 1988-91).”
It was Greene who brought “The Three Horsemen” together, Ray Brown said. Greene recruited Ray Brown, who had his own band, to come to WIBB. Ray Brown, in turn, lured Swain over to the station.
“All the time I was there, he was my guiding light,” Ray Brown said of Greene.
The trio not only were a hit over the airwaves, but they also held talent shows, remotes and other events that would draw crowds of 5,000 or more.
Ray Brown noted that he owed most of his radio career to Greene, who would later hire him at radio stations in Columbia, S.C., and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
“He was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Ray Brown said. “He gave me every job I ever had in radio.”
Ray Brown said Greene was a talented electrician, having learned those skills in the Navy and later getting a college degree in electronics.
Phelps said her father was very active in the civil rights movement in the late 1950s and early ’60s, and it was strife from his involvement that eventually caused him to leave Macon due to two incidents.
In one, Greene and others held a sit-in at Mabel White Baptist Church, arguing the church should be open to people of all color, Phelps said. She said her father received death threats because of the incident.
Ray Brown recalled another incident, in which Greene and his wife were at a white physician’s office. The doctor refused to see Greene’s wife.
Greene wrote a letter to the editor in The Telegraph, decrying racial discrimination. Brown said WIBB’s management told Greene to apologize or lose his job, but Greene told them he’d rather resign than apologize, Ray Brown said.
Greene left Macon and moved to New York’s Harlem neighborhood where he owned an electronics store. He later had a small recording studio in Jacksonville, Fla., before getting back into the radio business in Columbia.
However, Phelps said her father encountered some of the same racial strife that he had in Macon and eventually left to become the general manager of a station in the Virgin Islands.
Phelps said that despite Greene’s illness, he was able to die in a dignified way.
“He was a very well-respected father,” she said. “He stressed (to his children) education and how to treat people the way he wanted to be treated. He was a Renaissance man and didn’t let color stop him. He moved forward and had the best of everything.”
A memorial service for Greene has been scheduled for Jan. 20 at noon at New Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, 795 Maynard St. in Macon.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.