Western New York has a deep and rich historical connection to music in the United States of America, and a few thousand people received a key reminder of that on Wednesday, March 20, 2024, inside the historic Shea's Performing Arts Center in Downtown Buffalo.

A perfect example of how great Buffalo's music scene is can be in the life of James Ambrose Johnson, Jr. From interacting with greats like Katherine Dunham and Miles Davis as a child to becoming a singer-songwriter, musician, and record producer for greats like Teena Marie, the Temptations, and Smokey Robinson.

Produced by Ty James and playwright and director Je'Caryous JohnsonSuper Freak: The Rick James Story is a musical touring the nation. It tells the life story of Buffalo's Rick James.

The story protagonist, Rick James, was played by two different actors: Kobe Brown, who plays young James Johnson, Jr. and Ricky James Matthews, and Stokley Williams, the talented singer from Mint Condition, who played Rick James once he achieved stardom, through the end of James life. Chontell Moore played James' mother, Mabel Johnson.

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Written by Ty James, Je'Caryous Johnson, and J. Kyle Manzay, The Rick James Story uses source material from several prominent people in James' life, as well as the books Glow by Rick James and David Ritz and Memoirs of a Superfreak by Rick James.

Super Freak: The Rick James Story
Ed Nice Jackson / Townsquare Media

Over three hours and two acts, the crowd in James' hometown was captivated by several outstanding performances by some highly talented actors and actresses, as the musical showcased James throughout his life. From growing up in the Perry and Willert Park Housing Projects to joining the Navy, going AWOL to Canada, returning to the United States to serve prison time, all the way back to Detroit, Los Angeles, and back to Buffalo as James struggled to get his music career off the ground.

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The story touches on several points of James' life, from creating the Mynah Birds in Toronto and meeting and learning from Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder in Detroit to coming home to Buffalo to form the Stone City Band and blasting off to superstar status with his Street Songs album. In addition to the high points in his life, like introducing the world to Prince and Teena Maria, the story also touched on the low points of his life, like his struggle with drug addiction and legal troubles.

The musical is on tour until mid-June, and if you can catch this show, you should; it is thoroughly entertaining and worth spending a few dollars on.

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