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3 May 1933 - 25 December 2006
James Brown, the self-confessed ‘Godfather of soul’
died of heart failure at Emory Crawford Long Hospital at 1:45a.m.
Monday December 25, 2006. 73-year-old Brown was hospitalised after
suffering with pneumonia.
James Joseph Brown was born an only child in Bramwell, South Carolina
in 1933. His parents separated when he was four. Brown would then
go to live in his aunts’ brothel in Augusta, Georgia. Brown
was never work shy. After leaving school in the seventh grade he
would turn his hand to many jobs, shoeshine boy, car washing, washing
dishes and sweeping shop floors.
At 16, Brown took part in an armed robbery and was later caught
breaking into a car. His punishment was an eight to sixteen year
sentence of hard labour. After serving a relatively short period
in the county jail he was transferred to juvenile work farms. Brown
spent a further three years in a community home.
Upon his release he would attempt many roles in the sporting arena,
initially boxing and later as a baseball pitcher. Both would be
short lived, mainly through injuries.
Brown began work with pianist Bobby Byrd (whom he first met in
prison) in bars and clubs in Toccoa, Georgia. He impressed Clint
Brantley (Little Richard’s manager). A contract would be signed
and Brown would soon be performing at the Twospot Nightclub in Macon,
Georgia. Like many tenacious musicians, Brown would lead a double-life.
During the day he worked at Lawson’s Motor Company, in the
evenings he worked as a drummer and organ player in the club’s
house band. Byrd’s Gospel and r&b was the flavour at the
time. Brown would eventually become a member of Bobby Byrd’s
popular gospel group Three Swanees. The group would evolve into
the Swanee Quintet, then the Swanees. Group members included the
likes of Sylvester Keel (vocals) and Nafloyd Scott (guitar). The
group would tour Georgia and eventually became the Famous Flames.
In 1956, under Brown’s guidance, the Famous Flames signed
to King Records. The single “Please, Please, Please”
was released and became an instant hit, catapulting Brown and the
group into the limelight. However, following releases failed to
chart and King Records threatened to cancel the contract if a hit
single was not forthcoming. “Try Me” was released September
1958. This release hit the top of the r&b charts and a respected
58 on the US single charts. By now Brown had already flaunted his
talents as the groups’ front man. The success of two singles
would prove to be great springboards for Brown’s career.
On October 24, 1962 James Brown performed at the Apollo. He was
confident enough to pay for the recording of “Live At The
Apollo” himself. This would prove a decisive decision in his
career as this album not only hit on the pop charts, but also turned
Brown into a household name. Brown’s concert with the Famous
Flames, led by saxophonist J.C Davis went on to break all concert
1964- 1966 would prove to be extremely fruitful years for Brown,
with the “Live At The Apollo” recording becoming the
first album in pop history to sell more than a million copies. Further
community recognition and commercial success would follow with the
“Pure Dynamite” album (one of Brown’s other nicknames)
the Grammy winning “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”
“I Got The Feelin’, “Say It Loud – I’m
Black and Proud and Mother Popcorn. “It’s A Man’s,
Man’s World” hit number 8 in the US charts in 1966.
This timeless, dramatic ballad almost never made it as a single
due a legal dispute with King Records and Mercury Records. Brown
continued to tour and performed 300 times a year, earning him the
title ‘the hardest working man in show business’. Financial
rewards would also follow in the form of owning a private jet; four
radio stations, a restaurant chain, a castle and a music-publishing
Most are aware of James Brown’s self-confessed title as the
Godfather of soul. Many do not doubt, or question such a title.
But many also believe Brown to be the Godfather of Funk as he invented
the style before George Clinton. Ironically, Brown’s decline
is said to have begun when key musicians such as Maceo Parker, Fred
Wesley and Bootsy Collins left him to join forces with Clinton’s
bands Parliament and Funkadelic. Pee Wee Ellis also left Brown to
pursue other musical avenues.
Brown’s hit machine continued in 1970 with classics such
as “It’s a New Day”, “Brother Rapp”,
“Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine) and Super Bad. In
the same year, Brown also married his first wife Deirdre Jenkins.
The hits continued through to 1974 with “Hot Pants, Part1”,
“Make It Funky, Part 1”, “Good Foot, Part 1”,
“My Thang” and “Payback”. The albums “Hot
Pants” and “Black Caeser” also gained respected
positions in the charts.
In 1975 the IRS demanded $4.5 million unpaid tax from Brown. His
radio stations were hit by a bribery scandal and his marriage was
on the rocks. His son Teddy was killed in a car accident the same
year. Brown was forced to sell his private jet and radio stations
in an attempt to ease the financial squeeze. A tour of Japan and
Africa was also added to his schedule.
The disco phenomenon affected many established musicians popularity
and record sales during the mid to late seventies. Brown was no
exception with only two commercial successes as the year 1980 rolled
in (the single “Get Up Offa That Thing” and the album
“Reality”). Brown had racked up 100 million record sales
by this point.
Brown continued to push on. After all, he was the hardest working
man in show business! In 1980 his popularity rose again after a
guest appearance in the cult movie The Blues Brothers. The album
“Rapp Payback” followed, but his contract with Island
Records was cancelled. Brown signed to RCA in 1983 and hit the UK
charts with the singles “Bring It On – Bring It On”
and “Unity, Part 1” (collaboration with Africa Bambaataa).
1985 would see ‘the showman’ Brown perform the Dan
Hartman penned “Living In America” in the film Rocky
IV. Though this proved a hit with a worldwide younger audience (and
earned a Grammy Award) his older fans seemed little impressed. “Sex
Machine was re-released that summer and gained a top thirty position
in the British pop charts. In 1987, Brown released “Gravity”
to mixed reviews. The single “I’m Real” was released
and gained more favourable reaction.
In 1987 Brown was arrested for drug abuse for the fifth time. Resisting
arrest, attacking his wife and the illegal possession of arms was
also added to his rap sheet. In December he was convicted of the
attempted murder of his wife. He received a six-year prison sentence.
In April 1990 Brown was released after serving 15 months at the
State Park Prison in Columbia, South Carolina. He was moved to a
reintegration centre for good behaviour. He would use this time
to produce radio and television advertisements warning against the
pitfalls of drug and alcohol abuse. Brown was released in February
1991. The same year would see him performing at the Wiltern Theatre
in Los Angeles to a rapturous applause from patrons and music moguls
1993 would see the release of “Love Over Due”, an album
that many saw as a true return to form. Brown received a Grammy
for his lifetime achievements the same year. “Universal James”
was also released in 1993. On this set Brown attempted to blend
traditional and contemporary styles with a hip-hop – soul
mix. This album was not well received by critics, or Brown’s
fans. In 1998 he released the album “I’m Back”
to mixed reviews.
November 4, 2000 would see James Brown perform a memorable concert
at the AVO-2000 festival in Basel, Switzerland. Backed by a fifteen-man
band, backing singers and master of ceremony, Brown thrilled his
ecstatic audience with his renowned jazzy funk filled set.
In 2004, Brown was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but he successfully
fought the disease. Friends and family were still concerned for
his health, but by 2006 he began a global tour (Seven Decades of
Funk World Tour). Brown was diagnosed with pneumonia while attending
a routine dentist appointment. He was admitted to hospital, but
died a few days later. Brown is survived by his forth wife, Tomi
Raye Hyne and their son James Jr.
Despite James Brown’s colourful past, his contribution to
the world of music is without question. His influence can be heard
on a daily basis in every genre. At one stage Brown was quoted as
‘the worlds most sampled artist’. He was still seen
as a positive role model for many, both musically and from a ‘strictly
business perspective’. In 1969, Look magazine commented that
he was ‘the most important black man in America’! His
rise from the ghetto was an example to many of just what you can
achieve with share hard work and persistence. Brown was a strong
believer in ‘putting his money where his mouth is’.
He supported programmes against drug abuse and was active on the
political front (specifically the ideas of Martin Luther King).
Brown also supported many black causes, charities and organisations.
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.