Barnwell, South Carolina, U.S..... Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Dancer, Bandleader
Genres..... Funk, Soul, Rhythm & Blues, Spirituals, Gospel
Labels..... Federal King, Try Me, Smash, People, Polydor, Scotti Bros.
May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006 - The founding father of funk music and a major figure of 20th century popular music and dance, he is often referred to as the "Godfather of Soul". His career spanned six decades.
Brown began his professional career as a gospel singer in Toccoa, Georgia. He joined an R&B vocal group, the Gospel Starlights (which later evolved into the Flames), in which he was the lead singer. First coming to national public attention in the late 1950s as a member of the singing group the Famous Flames with the hit ballads "Please, Please, Please" and "Try Me", Brown built a reputation as a tireless live performer with the Famous Flames and his backing band, sometimes known as the James Brown Band or the James Brown Orchestra. His success peaked in the 1960s with the live album Live at the Apollo and hit singles such as "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World". During the late 1960s he moved from a continuum of blues and gospel-based forms and styles to a profoundly "Africanized" approach to music-making that influenced the development of funk music. By the early 1970s, Brown had fully established the funk sound after the formation of the J.B.s with records such as "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" and "The Payback". He also became noted for songs of social commentary, including the 1968 hit "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud".
Brown recorded 16 singles that reached number one on the Billboard R&B charts. He also holds the record for the most singles listed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart which did not reach number one. Brown has received honors from many institutions, including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. In Joel Whitburn's analysis of the Billboard R&B charts from 1942 to 2010, James Brown is ranked as number one in The Top 500 Artists. He is ranked seventh on the music magazine Rolling Stone's list of its 100 greatest artists of all time. Rolling Stone has also cited Brown as the most sampled artist of all time.
Brown was born on May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, South Carolina, to 16-year-old Susie and 22-year-old Joseph "Joe" Gardner Brown, in a small wooden shack. Brown's name was supposed to have been Joseph James Brown, Jr.; however, his first and middle names were mistakenly reversed on his birth certificate. He later legally changed his name to remove "Jr." His parents were both black; in his autobiography, Brown stated that he also had Chinese and Native American ancestry. The Brown family lived in extreme poverty in Elko, South Carolina, which was an impoverished town at the time. They later moved to Augusta, Georgia, when James. His family first settled at one of his aunts' brothels. They later moved into a house shared with another aunt. Brown's mother later left the family after a contentious marriage and moved to New York. Brown spent long stretches of time on his own, hanging out in the streets and hustling to get by. He managed to stay in school until the sixth grade.
He began singing in talent shows as a young child, first appearing at Augusta's Lenox Theater in 1944, winning the show after singing the ballad "So Long". While in Augusta, Brown performed buck dances for change to entertain troops from Camp Gordon at the start of World War II as their convoys traveled over a canal bridge near his aunt's home. He learned to play the piano, guitar and harmonica during this period. He became inspired to become an entertainer after hearing "Caldonia" by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five. In his teen years, Brown briefly had a career as a boxer. At the age of 16, he was convicted of robbery and was sent to a juvenile detention center in Toccoa. There he formed a gospel quartet with four fellow cell mates, including Johnny Terry. Stories differ as to how Brown was eventually paroled. According to one story, Bobby Byrd's family helped to secure an early release, while another story stated that Brown got his parole after S.C. Lawson, the owner of a car and motor manufacturing company, agreed to sponsor him after Brown had promised to look for a job guaranteed for two years. He was paroled on June 14, 1952. Upon his release, Brown joined a gospel group and had several jobs, working for the Lawson Motor Company and as a janitor at a local school. Brown and Bobby Byrd reportedly met and became friends following Brown's release from prison.
Brown joined Byrd's group, which performed under two names: the Gospel Starlighters, an a cappella gospel group, and the Avons, an R&B band. He reputedly joined the band after one of its members, Troy Collins, was killed. Along with Brown and Byrd, the group consisted of Sylvester Keels, Doyle Oglesby, Fred Pulliam, Nash Knox and Nafloyd Scott. Influenced by R&B groups such as Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, the Orioles and Billy Ward and His Dominoes, the group changed its name, first to the Toccoa Band and then to the Flames. Nafloyd's brother Baroy later joined the group on bass guitar, and Brown, Byrd and Keels switched lead positions and instruments, often playing drums and piano. Johnny Terry later joined, by which time Pulliam and Oglesby had long left. Berry Trimier became the group's first manager, booking them at parties near college campuses in Georgia and South Carolina. The group had already gained a reputation as a good live act when they renamed themselves the Famous Flames. By 1955, the group had contacted Little Richard, who was idolized by Brown, while performing in Macon. Richard convinced the group to get in contact with his manager at the time, Clint Brantley, at his nightclub. Brantley agreed to manage them after seeing the group audition. He then sent them to a local radio station to record a demo session, where they performed their own composition "Please, Please, Please", which was inspired when Little Richard wrote the words of the title on a napkin and Brown was determined to make a song out of it. The Famous Flames eventually signed with King Records' Federal subsidiary in Cincinnati, Ohio, and issued a re-recorded version of "Please, Please, Please" in March 1956. The song became the group's first R&B hit, selling over a million copies. None of their follow-ups gained similar success. By 1957, Brown had replaced Clint Brantley as manager and hired Ben Bart, chief of Universal Attractions Agency. That year the original Flames broke up, after Bart changed the name of the group to "James Brown and The Famous Flames".
In October 1958, Brown released the ballad "Try Me", which hit number one on the R&B chart in the beginning of 1959, becoming the first of seventeen chart-topping R&B hits. Shortly afterwards, he recruited his first band, led by J. C. Davis, and reunited with Bobby Byrd who joined a revived Famous Flames lineup that included Eugene "Baby" Lloyd Stallworth and Bobby Bennett, with Johnny Terry sometimes coming in as the "fifth Flame". Brown, the Flames, and his entire band debuted at the Apollo Theater on April 24, 1959, opening for Little Willie John. Federal Records issued two albums credited to Brown and the Famous Flames. By 1960, Brown began multi-tasking in the recording studio involving himself, his singing group, the Famous Flames, and his band, a separate entity from The Flames, sometimes named the James Brown Orchestra or the James Brown Band. That year the band released the top ten R&B hit "(Do the) Mashed Potatoes" on Dade Records, owned by Henry Stone, billed under the pseudonym "Nat Kendrick & the Swans" due to label issues. As a result of its success, King president Syd Nathan shifted Brown's contract from Federal to the parent label, King, which according to Brown in his autobiography meant "you got more support from the company". While with King, Brown, under the Famous Flames lineup, released the album Think! and the following year released two albums with the James Brown Band earning second billing. With the Famous Flames, Brown sang lead on several more hits, including "I'll Go Crazy" and "Think", songs that hinted at his emerging style.
In 1962, Brown and his band scored a hit with their cover of the instrumental "Night Train", becoming not only a top five R&B single but also Brown's first top 40 entry on the Billboard Hot 100. That same year, the ballads "Lost Someone" and "Baby You're Right", the latter a Joe Tex composition, added to his repertoire and increased his reputation with R&B audiences. On October 24, 1962, Brown financed a live recording of a performance at the Apollo and convinced Syd Nathan to release the album, despite Nathan's belief that no one would buy a live album due to the fact that Brown's singles had already been bought and that live albums were usually bad sellers.
Live at the Apollo was released the following June and became an immediate hit, eventually reaching number two on the Top LPs chart and selling over a million copies, staying on the charts for 14 months. In 1963, Brown scored his first top 20 pop hit with his rendition of the standard "Prisoner of Love". He also launched his first label, Try Me Records, which included recordings by the likes of Tammy Montgomery (later to be famous as Tammi Terrell), Johnny & Bill (Famous Flames associates Johnny Terry and Bill Hollings) and the Poets, which was another name used for Brown's backing band.
In 1964, seeking bigger commercial success, Brown and Bobby Byrd formed the production company, Fair Deal, linking the operation to the Mercury imprint, Smash Records. King Records, however, fought against this and was granted an injunction preventing Brown from releasing any recordings for the label. Prior to the injunction, Brown had released three vocal singles, including the blues-oriented hit "Out of Sight", which further indicated the direction his music was going to take. Touring throughout the year, Brown and the Famous Flames grabbed more national attention after giving an explosive show-stopping performance on the live concert film The T.A.M.I. Show. The Flames' dynamic gospel-tinged vocals, polished choreography and timing as well as Brown's energetic dance moves and high-octane singing upstaged the proposed closing act, the Rolling Stones. Having signed a new deal with King, Brown released his song "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", which became his first top ten pop hit and won him his first Grammy Award. Later in 1965, he issued "I Got You", which became his second single in a row to reach number-one on the R&B chart and top ten on the pop chart. Brown followed that up with the ballad "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" which confirmed his stance as a top-ranking performer, especially with R&B audiences from that point on.
By 1967, Brown's emerging sound had begun to be defined as funk music. That year he released what some critics cited as the first true funk song, "Cold Sweat", which hit number-one on the R&B chart (Top 10 Pop) and became one of his first recordings to contain a drum break and also the first that featured a harmony that was reduced to a single chord. The instrumental arrangements on tracks such as "Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose" and "Licking Stick-Licking Stick" (both recorded in 1968) and "Funky Drummer" (recorded in 1969) featured a more developed version of Brown's mid-1960s style, with the horn section, guitars, bass and drums meshed together in intricate rhythmic patterns based on multiple interlocking riffs.
Changes in Brown's style that started with "Cold Sweat" also established the musical foundation for Brown's later hits, such as "I Got the Feelin'" (1968) and "Mother Popcorn" (1969). By this time Brown's vocals frequently took the form of a kind of rhythmic declamation, not quite sung but not quite spoken, that only intermittently featured traces of pitch or melody. This would become a major influence on the techniques of rapping, which would come to maturity along with hip hop music in the coming decades. Brown's style of funk in the late 1960s was based on interlocking syncopated parts: funky bass lines, drum patterns, and iconic guitar riffs. The main guitar ostinatos for "Ain't It Funky" and "Give It Up or Turn It Loose" (both 1969), are examples of Brown's refinement of New Orleans funk; irresistibly danceable riffs, stripped down to their rhythmic essence. On both recordings the tonal structure is bare bones. The pattern of attack-points is the emphasis, not the pattern of pitches. It's as if the guitar is an African drum, or idiophone. Alexander Stewart states that this popular feel was passed along from "New Orleans—through James Brown's music, to the popular music of the 1970s." Those same tracks were later resurrected by countless hip-hop musicians from the 1970s onward. As a result, James Brown remains to this day the world's most sampled recording artist.
"Bring it Up" has an Afro-Cuban guajeo-like structure. In fact, on a 1976 version, Cuban bongos are used. All three of these guitar riffs are based on an onbeat/offbeat structure. Stewart states: "This model, it should be noted, is different from a time line (such as clave and tresillo) in that it is not an exact pattern, but more of a loose organizing principle."
It was around this time as the musician's popularity increased that he acquired the nickname "Soul Brother No. 1", after failing to win the title "King of Soul" from Solomon Burke during a Chicago gig two years prior. Brown's recordings during this period influenced musicians across the industry, most notably groups such as Sly and the Family Stone, Funkadelic, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Booker T. & the M.G.s as well as vocalists such as Edwin Starr, David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards from The Temptations, and Michael Jackson, who, throughout his career, cited Brown as his ultimate idol.
Brown's band during this period employed musicians and arrangers who had come up through the jazz tradition. He was noted for his ability as a bandleader and songwriter to blend the simplicity and drive of R&B with the rhythmic complexity and precision of jazz. Trumpeter Lewis Hamlin and saxophonist/keyboardist Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis (the successor to previous bandleader Nat Jones) led the band. Guitarist Jimmy Nolen provided percussive, deceptively simple riffs for each song, and Maceo Parker's prominent saxophone solos provided a focal point for many performances. Other members of Brown's band included stalwart Famous Flames singer and sideman Bobby Byrd, drummers John "Jabo" Starks, Clyde Stubblefield and Melvin Parker, saxophonist St. Clair Pinckney, trombonist Fred Wesley, guitarist Alphonso "Country" Kellum and bassist Bernard Odum.
In addition to a torrent of singles and studio albums, Brown's output during this period included two more successful live albums, Live at the Garden (1967) and Live at the Apollo, Volume II (1968), and a 1968 television special, James Brown: Man to Man. His music empire expanded along with his influence on the music scene. As Brown's music empire grew, his desire for financial and artistic independence grew as well. Brown bought radio stations during the late 1960s, including WRDW in his native Augusta, where he shined shoes as a boy. In November 1967, James Brown purchased radio station WGYW in Knoxville, Tennessee for a reported $75,000, according to the January 20, 1968 Record World magazine. The call letters were changed to WJBE reflecting his initials. WJBE began on January 15, 1968 and broadcast a Rhythm & Blues format. The station slogan was "WJBE 1430 Raw Soul". Brown also bought WEBB in Baltimore in 1970.
Brown branched out to make several recordings with musicians outside his own band. In an attempt to appeal to the older, more affluent, and predominantly white adult contemporary audience, Brown recorded Gettin' Down To It (1969) and Soul on Top (1970)—two albums consisting mostly of romantic ballads, jazz standards, and homologous reinterpretations of his earlier hits—with the Dee Felice Trio and the Louie Bellson Orchestra. In 1968, he recorded a number of funk-oriented tracks with The Dapps, a white Cincinnati band, including the hit "I Can't Stand Myself". He also released three albums of Christmas music with his own band.
In March 1970, most of Brown's mid-to-late 1960s road band walked out on him due to money disputes, a development augured by the prior disbandment of The Famous Flames singing group for the same reason in 1968. Brown and erstwhile Famous Flames singer Bobby Byrd (who chose to remain in the band during this tumultuous period) subsequently recruited several members of the Cincinnati-based The Pacemakers, which included Bootsy Collins and his brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins; augmented by the remaining members of the 1960s road band (including Fred Wesley, who rejoined Brown's outfit in December 1970) and other newer musicians, they would form the nucleus of The J.B.'s, Brown's new backing ensemble. Shortly following their first performance together, the band entered the studio to record the Brown-Byrd composition, "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine"; the song and other contemporaneous singles would further cement Brown's influence in the nascent genre of funk music. This iteration of the J.B.'s dissolved after a March 1971 European tour (documented on the 1991 archival release Love Power Peace) due to additional money disputes and Bootsy Collins' use of LSD; the Collins brothers would soon become integral members of Parliament-Funkadelic, while a new lineup of the J.B.'s coalesced around Wesley, St. Clair Pinckney and drummer John Starks.
In 1971, Brown began recording for Polydor Records which also took over distribution of Brown's King Records catalog. Many of his sidemen and supporting players, including Fred Wesley & the J.B.'s, Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, Vicki Anderson and former rival Hank Ballard, released records on the People label, an imprint founded by Brown that was purchased by Polydor as part of Brown's new contract. The recordings on the People label, almost all of which were produced by Brown himself, exemplified his "house style". Songs such as "I Know You Got Soul" by Bobby Byrd, "Think" by Lyn Collins and "Doing It to Death" by Fred Wesley & the J.B.'s are considered as much a part of Brown's recorded legacy as the recordings released under his own name. That year, he also began touring African countries and was received well by audiences there. During the 1972 presidential election, James Brown openly proclaimed his support of Richard Nixon for reelection of the presidency over Democratic candidate George McGovern. The decision led to a boycott of his performances and, according to Brown, cost him a big portion of his black audience. As a result, Brown's record sales and concerts in the United States reached a lull in 1973 as he failed to land a number-one R&B single that year. Brown relied more on touring outside the United States where he continued to perform for sold-out crowds in cities such as London, Paris and Lausanne. That year he also faced problems with the IRS for failure to pay back taxes, charging he hadn't paid upwards of $4.5 million; five years earlier, the IRS had claimed he owed nearly $2 million.
In 1973, Brown provided the score for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar. He also recorded another soundtrack for the film, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off. Following the release of these soundtracks, Brown acquired a self-styled nickname, "The Godfather of Soul", which remains his most popular nickname. In 1974 he returned to the No. 1 spot on the R&B charts with "The Payback", with the parent album reaching the same spot on the album charts; he would reach No. 1 two more times in 1974, with "My Thang" and "Papa Don't Take No Mess". Later that year, he returned to Africa and performed in Kinshasa as part of the buildup to The Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Admirers of Brown's music, including Miles Davis and other jazz musicians, began to cite him as a major influence on their own styles. However Brown, like others who were influenced by his music, also "borrowed" from other musicians. His 1976 single, "Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved)" (R&B #31), used the main riff from "Fame" by David Bowie, not the other way around as was often believed. The riff was provided to "Fame" co-writers John Lennon and Bowie by guitarist Carlos Alomar, who had briefly been a member of Brown's band in the late 1960s.
Brown's "Papa Don't Take No Mess" would be his final single to reach the No. 1 spot on the R&B charts and his final Top 40 pop single of the 1970s, though he continued to occasionally have Top 10 R&B recordings. Among his top ten R&B hits during this latter period included "Funky President" and "Get Up Offa That Thing", the latter song released in 1976 and aimed at musical rivals such as Barry White, The Ohio Players and K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Brown credited his then-wife and two of their children as writers of the song to avoid concurrent tax problems with the IRS. Starting in October 1975, Brown produced, directed, and hosted Future Shock, an Atlanta-based television variety show that ran for three years.
Although his records were mainstays of the vanguard New York underground disco scene exemplified by DJs such as David Mancuso and Francis Grasso from 1969 onwards, Brown did not consciously yield to the trend until 1975's Sex Machine Today. By 1977, he was no longer a dominant force in R&B. After "Get Up Offa That Thing", thirteen of Brown's late 1970s recordings for Polydor failed to reach the Top 10 of the R&B chart, with only "Bodyheat" in 1976 and the disco-oriented "It's Too Funky in Here" in 1979 reaching the R&B Top 15 and the ballad "Kiss in '77" reaching the Top 20. After 1976's "Bodyheat", he also failed to appear on the Billboard Hot 100. As a result, Brown's concert attendance began dropping and his reported disputes with the IRS caused his business empire to collapse. In addition, Brown's former band mates, including Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker and the Collins brothers, had found bigger success as members of George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic collective. The emergence of disco also stopped Brown's success on the R&B charts because its slicker, more commercial style had superseded his more raw funk productions.
By the release of 1979's The Original Disco Man, Brown was not providing much production or writing, leaving most of it to producer Brad Shapiro, resulting in the song "It's Too Funky in Here" becoming Brown's most successful single in this period. After two more albums failed to chart, Brown left Polydor in 1981. It was around this time that Brown changed the name of his band from the J.B.'s to the Soul Generals (or Soul G's). The band retained that name until his death. Despite the decline in his record sales Brown enjoyed something of a resurgence in this period, starting with appearances in the feature films The Blues Brothers, Doctor Detroit and Rocky IV, as well as guest-starring in the Miami Vice episode "Missing Hours" (1987). In 1984, he teamed with rap musician Afrika Bambaattaa on the song "Unity". A year later he signed with Scotti Brothers Records and issued the moderately successful album Gravity in 1986. It included Brown's final Top 10 pop hit, "Living in America", marking his first Top 40 entry since 1974 and his first Top 10 pop entry since 1968. Produced and written by Dan Hartman, it was also featured prominently on the Rocky IV film and soundtrack. Brown performed the song in the film at Apollo Creed's final fight, shot in the Ziegfeld Room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and was credited in the film as "The Godfather of Soul". 1986 also saw the publication of his autobiography, James Brown: The Godfather of Soul, co-written with Bruce Tucker. In 1987, Brown won the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Living in America".
In 1988, Brown worked with the production team Full Force on the new jack swing-influenced album I'm Real. It spawned his final two Top 10 R&B hits, "I'm Real" and "Static", which peaked at No. 2 and No. 5, respectively, on the R&B charts. Meanwhile, the drum break from the second version of the original 1969 hit "Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose" (the recording included on the compilation album In the Jungle Groove) became so popular at hip hop dance parties (especially for breakdance) during the early 1980s that hip hop founding father Kurtis Blow called the song "the national anthem of hip hop".
After his stint in prison during the late 1980s, Brown met Larry Fridie and Thomas Hart who produced the first James Brown biopic, entitled James Brown: The Man, the Message, the Music, released in 1992. He returned to music with the album Love Over-Due in 1991. It included the single "(So Tired of Standing Still We Got to) Move On", which peaked at No. 48 on the R&B chart. His former record label Polydor also released the four-CD box set Star Time, spanning Brown's career to date. Brown's release from prison also prompted his former record labels to reissue his albums on CD, featuring additional tracks and commentary by music critics and historians. That same year, Brown appeared on rapper MC Hammer's video for "Too Legit to Quit". Hammer had been noted, alongside Big Daddy Kane, for bringing Brown's unique stage shows and their own energetic dance moves to the hip-hop generation; both listed Brown as their idol. Both musicians also sampled his work, with Hammer having sampled the rhythms from "Super Bad" for his song "Here Comes the Hammer", from his best-selling album Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em. Before the year was over, Brown–who had immediately returned to work with his band following his release–organized a pay-per-view concert following a show at Los Angeles' Wiltern Theatre, that was well received.
On June 10, 1991, James Brown and a star-filled line up performed before a crowd at the Wiltern Theatre for a live pay-per-view at-home audience. James Brown: Living in America – Live! was the brainchild of Indiana producer Danny Hubbard. It featured M.C. Hammer as well as Bell Biv Devoe, the Boys, En Vogue, C+C Music Factory, Quincy Jones, Sherman Hemsley and Keenen Ivory Wayans. Ice-T, Tone Loc and Kool Moe Dee performed paying homage to Brown. This was Brown's first public performance since his parole from the South Carolina prison system in February. He had served two-and-a-half years of two concurrent six-year sentences for aggravated assault and other felonies.
Brown continued making recordings. In 1993 his album Universal James was released. It included his final Billboard charting single, "Can't Get Any Harder", which peaked at No. 76 on the US R&B chart and reached No. 59 on the UK chart. Its brief charting in the UK was probably due to the success of a remixed version of "I Feel Good" featuring Dakeyne. Brown also released the singles "How Long" and "Georgia-Lina", which failed to chart. In 1995, Brown returned to the Apollo and recorded Live at the Apollo 1995. It included a studio track titled "Respect Me", which was released as a single; again it failed to chart. Brown's final studio albums, I'm Back and The Next Step, were released in 1998 and 2002 respectively. I'm Back featured the song "Funk on Ah Roll", which peaked at No. 40 in the UK but did not chart in his native US. The Next Step included Brown's final single, "Killing Is Out, School Is In". Both albums were produced by Derrick Monk. Brown's concert success, however, remained unabated and he kept up with a grueling schedule throughout the remainder of his life, living up to his previous nickname, "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business", in spite of his advanced age. In 2003, Brown participated in the PBS American Masters television documentary James Brown: Soul Survivor, which was directed by Jeremy Marre.
Brown celebrated his status as an icon by appearing in a variety of entertainment and sports events, including an appearance on the WCW pay-per-view event, SuperBrawl X, where he danced alongside wrestler Ernest "The Cat" Miller, who based his character on Brown, during his in-ring skit with The Maestro. Brown then appeared in Tony Scott's short film Beat the Devil in 2001. He was featured alongside Clive Owen, Gary Oldman, Danny Trejo and Marilyn Manson. Brown also made a cameo appearance in the 2002 Jackie Chan film The Tuxedo, in which Chan was required to finish Brown's act after having accidentally knocked out the singer. In 2002, Brown appeared in Undercover Brother, playing himself. In 2004, Brown performed in Hyde Park, London as a support act for Red Hot Chili Peppers concerts.
The beginning of 2005, saw the publication of Brown's second book, I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul, written with Marc Eliot. In February and March, he participated in recording sessions for an intended studio album with Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, and other longtime collaborators. Though he lost interest in the album, which remains unreleased, a track from the sessions, "Gut Bucket", appeared on a compilation CD included with the August 2006 issue of MOJO. He appeared at Edinburgh 50,000 – The Final Push, the final Live 8 concert on July 6, 2005, where he performed a duet with British pop star Will Young on "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag". The previous week he had performed a duet with another British pop star, Joss Stone, on the United Kingdom chat show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. In 2006, Brown continued his "Seven Decades of Funk World Tour", his last concert tour where he performed all over the world. His final U.S. performances were in San Francisco on August 20, 2006, as headliner at the Festival of the Golden Gate (Foggfest) on the Great Meadow at Fort Mason. The following day, August 21, he performed at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA, at a small theater (800 seats) on campus. His last shows were greeted with positive reviews, and one of his final concert appearances at the Irish Oxegen festival in Punchestown in 2006 was performed for a record crowd of 80,000 people. He played a full concert as part of the BBC's Electric Proms on October 27, 2006, at The Roundhouse, supported by The Zutons, with special appearances from Max Beasley and The Sugababes. Brown's last televised appearance was at his induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame in November 2006, before his death the following month.
Before his death, Brown had been scheduled to perform a duet with singer Annie Lennox on the song "Vengeance" for her new album Venus, which was released in 2007.
For many years, Brown's touring show was one of the most extravagant productions in American popular music. At the time of Brown's death, his band included three guitarists, two bass guitar players, two drummers, three horns and a percussionist. The bands that he maintained during the late 1960s and 1970s were of comparable size, and the bands also included a three-piece amplified string section that played during the ballads. Brown employed between 40 and 50 people for the James Brown Revue, and members of the revue traveled with him in a bus to cities and towns all over the country, performing upwards of 330 shows a year with almost all of the shows as one-nighters.
Before James Brown appeared on stage, his personal MC gave him an elaborate introduction accompanied by drum-rolls, as the MC worked in Brown's various sobriquets along with the names of many of his hit songs. The introduction by Fats Gonder, captured on Brown's 1963 album Live at the Apollo album, is a representative example:
So now ladies and gentlemen it is star time, are you ready for star time? Thank you and thank you very kindly. It is indeed a great pleasure to present to you at this particular time, national and internationally known as the hardest working man in show business, the man that sings "I'll Go Crazy" ... "Try Me" ... "You've Got the Power" ... "Think" ... "If You Want Me" ... "I Don't Mind" ... "Bewildered" ...the million dollar seller, "Lost Someone" ... the very latest release, "Night Train" ... let's everybody "Shout and Shimmy" ... Mr. Dynamite, the amazing Mr. Please Please himself, the star of the show, James Brown and The Famous Flames!
James Brown's performances were famous for their intensity and length. His own stated goal was to "give people more than what they came for — make them tired, 'cause that's what they came for.' Brown's concert repertoire consisted mostly of his own hits and recent songs, with a few R&B covers mixed in. Brown danced vigorously as he sang, working popular dance steps such as the Mashed Potato into his routine along with dramatic leaps, splits and slides. In addition, his horn players and backup singers (The Famous Flames) typically performed choreographed dance routines, and later incarnations of the Revue included backup dancers. Male performers in the Revue were required to wear tuxedos and cummerbunds long after more casual concert wear became the norm among the younger musical acts. Brown's own extravagant outfits and his elaborate processed hairdo completed the visual impression. A James Brown concert typically included a performance by a featured vocalist, such as Vicki Anderson or Marva Whitney, and an instrumental feature for the band, which sometimes served as the opening act for the show.
A trademark feature of Brown's stage shows, usually during the song "Please, Please, Please", involved Brown dropping to his knees while clutching the microphone stand in his hands, prompting the shows longtime MC, Danny Ray, to come out, drape a cape over Brown's shoulders and escort him off the stage after he had worked himself to exhaustion during his performance. As Brown was escorted off the stage by the MC, Brown's vocal group, the Famous Flames, continued singing the background vocals "Please, please don't go-oh-oh". Brown would then shake off the cape and stagger back to the microphone to perform an encore. Brown's routine was inspired by a similar one used by the professional wrestler Gorgeous George, as well as Little Richard.
Brown performs a version of the cape routine over the closing credits of the film Blues Brothers 2000 and in the film of the T.A.M.I. Show (1964) in which he and The Famous Flames upstaged the Rolling Stones. The Police refer to "James Brown on the T.A.M.I. Show" in their 1980 song "When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around"
Brown demanded extreme discipline, perfection and precision from his musicians and dancers – performers in his Revue showed up for rehearsals and members wore the right "uniform" or "costume" for concert performances. During an interview conducted by Terri Gross during the NPR segment "Fresh Air" with Maceo Parker, a former saxophonist in Brown's band for most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s and 1980s, Parker offered his experience with the discipline that Brown demanded of the band:
You gotta be on time. You gotta have your uniform. Your stuffs got to be intact. You gotta have the bow tie. You got to have it. You can't come up without the bow tie. You cannot come up without a cummerbund ... The patent leather shoes we were wearing at the time gotta be greased. You just gotta have this stuff. This is what Brown expected ... Brown bought the costumes. He bought the shoes. And if for some reason the band member decided to leave the group, Brown told the person to please leave my uniforms ....
Brown also had a practice of directing, correcting and assessing fines on members of his band who broke his rules, such as wearing unshined shoes, dancing out of sync or showing up late on stage. During some of his concert performances, Brown danced in front of his band with his back to the audience as he slid across the floor, flashing hand signals and splaying his pulsating fingers to the beat of the music. Although audiences thought Brown's dance routine was part of his act, this practice was actually his way of pointing to the offending member of his troupe who played or sang the wrong note or committed some other infraction. Brown used his splayed fingers and hand signals to alert the offending person of the fine that person must pay to him for breaking his rules.
Brown's demands of his support acts were, meanwhile, quite the reverse. As Fred Wesley recalled of his time as musical director of the JBs, if Brown felt intimidated by a support act he would try to "undermine their performances by shortening their sets without notice, demanding that they not do certain show stopping songs, and even insisting on doing the unthinkable, playing drums on some of their songs. A sure set killer.
Brown's main social activism was in preserving the need for education among youths, influenced by his own troubled childhood and his forced dropping out of the seventh grade for wearing "insufficient clothes". Due to heavy dropout rates in the 1960s, Brown released the pro-education song, "Don't Be a Drop-Out". Royalties of the song were donated to charity used for dropout prevention programs. The success of this led to Brown meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House. Johnson cited Brown for being a positive role model to the youth. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, Brown provided a free city-wide concert in Boston to maintain public order (over the objections of the police chief, who wanted to call off the concert, which he thought would incite violence). A lifelong Republican like his best friend, Ray Charles, James Brown gained the confidence of President Richard Nixon, to whom he found he had to explain the plight of Black Americans. He was also harassed by J. Edgar Hoover and the IRS, probably because Hoover thought it "dangerous" that a young "Black radical" had the ear of the president.
Throughout the remainder of his life, Brown made public speeches in schools and continued to advocate the importance of education in school. Upon filing his will in 2002, Brown advised that most of the money in his estate go into creating the I Feel Good, Inc. Trust to benefit disadvantaged children and provide scholarships for his grandchildren. His final single, "Killing Is Out, School Is In", advocated against murders of young children in the streets. Brown often gave out money and other items to children while traveling to his childhood hometown of Augusta. A week before his death, while looking gravely ill, Brown gave out toys and turkeys to kids at an Atlanta orphanage, something he had done several times over the years..
Though Brown performed at benefit rallies for civil rights organizations in the mid-1960s, Brown often shied away from discussing civil rights in his songs. In 1968, in response to a growing urge of anti-war advocacy during the Vietnam War, Brown recorded the song, "America Is My Home". In the song, Brown performed a rap, advocating patriotism and exhorting listeners to "stop pitying yourselves and get up and fight." At the time of the song's release, Brown had been participating in performing for troops stationed in Vietnam. A day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Brown gave out a televised concert at the Boston Garden to calm concerned Boston relatives. The show was later released on DVD as Live at the Boston Garden: April 5, 1968. According to the documentary, The Night James Brown Saved Boston, then-mayor Kevin White had strongly restrained the Boston police from cracking down on minor violence, and protests after the assassination and religious and community leaders worked to keep tempers from flaring. White arranged to have Brown's performance broadcast multiple times on Boston's public television station, WGBH, thus keeping potential rioters off the streets, watching the concert for free. Angered by not being told of this, Brown demanded $60,000 for "gate" fees (money he thought would be lost from ticket sales on account of the concert being broadcast for free) and then threatened to go public about the secret arrangement when the city balked at paying up afterwards, news of which would have been a political death blow to White and spark riots of its own. White eventually lobbied the behind-the-scenes power-brokering group known as "The Vault" to come up with money for Brown's gate fee and other social programs, contributing $100,000. Brown received $15,000 from them via the city. White also persuaded management at the Garden to give up their share of receipts to make up the differences. Following this successful performance, Brown was cautioned by President Johnson to visit cities ravaged from riots following King's assassination to not resort to violence, telling them to "cool it, there's another way".
Responding to pressure from black activists, including H. Rap Brown, to take a bigger stance on their issues and from footage of black on black crime committed in inner cities, Brown wrote the lyrics to the song "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud", which his bandleader Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis accompanied with a musical composition. Released late that summer, the song's lyrics helped to make it an anthem for the civil rights movement. Brown only performed the song sporadically following its initial release and later stated he had regrets recording it, saying in 1984, "Now 'Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud' has done more for the black race than any other record, but if I had my choice, I wouldn't have done it, because I don't like defining anyone by race. To teach race is to teach separatism." In his autobiography he stated:
The song is obsolete now... But it was necessary to teach pride then, and I think the song did a lot of good for a lot of people... People called "Black and Proud" militant and angry – maybe because of the line about dying on your feet instead of living on your knees. But really, if you listen to it, it sounds like a children's song. That's why I had children in it, so children who heard it could grow up feeling pride... The song cost me a lot of my crossover audience. The racial makeup at my concerts was mostly black after that. I don't regret it, though, even if it was misunderstood.
In 1969 Brown recorded two more songs of social commentary, "World" and "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing", the latter song pleading for equal opportunity and self-reliance rather than entitlement. In 1970, in response to some black leaders for not being outspoken enough, he recorded "Get Up, Get into It, Get Involved" and "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing". In 1971 he began touring Africa, including Zambia and Nigeria. He was made "freeman of the city" in Lagos, Nigeria by Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, for his "influence on black people all over the world." With his company, James Brown Enterprises, Brown helped to provide jobs for blacks in business in the communities. As the 1970s continued, Brown continued to record songs of social commentary, most prominently 1972's "King Heroin" and the two-part ballad "Public Enemy", which dealt with drug addiction.
James Brown received a variety of awards and honors throughout his lifetime and after his death. At one city, fans voted to honor Brown by naming a bridge after the entertainer. In 1993 the City Council of Steamboat Springs, Colorado conducted a poll of its residents to choose a new name for the bridge that crossed the Yampa River on Shield Drive. The winning name with 7,717 votes was "James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge". The bridge was officially dedicated in September 1993, and James Brown appeared at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the event. Although a petition was started by a local group of ranchers to return the name of the bridge to "Stockbridge" for historical reasons, the ranchers backed off after citizens defeated their efforts because of the popularity of Brown's name. Brown returned to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, on July 4, 2002 for an outdoor music festival, performing with other bands such as The String Cheese Incident.
During his long career, James Brown received several prestigious music industry awards and honors. In 1983 he was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Brown was named as one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural induction dinner in New York on January 23, 1986. At that time, the members of his original vocal group, The Famous Flames (Bobby Byrd, Johnny Terry, Bobby Bennett, and Lloyd Stallworth) were not inducted. However, on April 14, 2012 The Famous Flames were automatically and retroactively inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside James Brown, without the need for nomination and voting, under the premise that they should have been inducted with him back in 1986. On February 25, 1992 Brown was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 34th annual Grammy Awards. Exactly a year later, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 4th annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards. A ceremony was held for Brown on January 10, 1997 to honor him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
On June 15, 2000 Brown was honored as an inductee to the New York Songwriters Hall of Fame. On August 6, 2002 he was honored as the first BMI Urban Icon at the BMI Urban Awards. His BMI accolades include an impressive ten R&B Awards and six Pop Awards. On November 14, 2006 Brown was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, and he was one of several inductees who performed at the ceremony. In recognition of his accomplishments as an entertainer, Brown was a recipient of Kennedy Center Honors on December 7, 2003. In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine ranked James Brown as No. 7 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In an article for Rolling Stone, critic Robert Christgau cited Brown as "the greatest musician of the rock era".
He appeared on the BET Awards June 24, 2003, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Michael Jackson, and he would perform with him.
Brown was also honored in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia, for his philanthropy and civic activities. On November 20, 1993 Mayor Charles DeVaney of Augusta held a ceremony to dedicate a section of 9th Street between Broad and Twiggs Streets, renamed "James Brown Boulevard", in the entertainer's honor. On May 6, 2005, as a 72nd birthday present for Brown, the city of Augusta unveiled a life-sized bronze James Brown statue on Broad Street. In 2005, Charles "Champ" Walker and the We Feel Good Committee went before the County commission and received approval to change Augusta's slogan to "We Feel Good". Afterwards, Official renamed the city's civic center the James Brown Arena, and James Brown attended a ceremony for the unveiling of the namesake center on October 15, 2006.
During the 47th Annual Grammy Award presentation held on February 13, 2005, James Brown shared the stage with the R&B superstar Usher. Usher came out performing his hit song "Caught Up" from his Grammy Award-winning album Confessions. Usher was joined on stage by his idol Brown and together they danced to Brown's "Sex Machine". Brown after the performance shared an embrace with Usher and dubbed him "the Godson of Soul".
On December 30, 2006, during the public memorial service at the James Brown Arena, Dr. Shirley A.R. Lewis, president of Paine College, a historically black college in Augusta, Georgia, bestowed posthumously upon Brown an honorary doctorate in recognition and honor of his many contributions to the school in its times of need. Brown had originally been scheduled to receive the honorary doctorate from Paine College during its May 2007 commencement.
During the 49th Annual Grammy Awards presentation held on February 11, 2007, James Brown's famous cape was draped over a microphone by Danny Ray at the end of a montage in honor of notable people in the music industry who died during the previous year. Earlier that evening, Christina Aguilera delivered an impassioned performance of one of Brown's hits, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" followed by a standing ovation, while Chris Brown performed a dance routine in honor of James Brown.
On August 17, 2013, the official R&B Music Hall of Fame honored and inducted James Brown at a ceremony held at the Waetejen Auditorium at Cleveland State University.
As a tribute to James Brown, the Rolling Stones covered the song, "I'll Go Crazy" from Brown's Live at the Apollo album, during their 2007 European tour. Jimmy Page has remarked, "He (James Brown) was almost a musical genre in his own right and he changed and moved forward the whole time so people were able to learn from him."
On December 22, 2007, the first annual "Tribute Fit For the King of King Records" in honor of James Brown was held at the Madison Theater in Covington, Kentucky. The tribute, organized by Bootsy Collins, featured appearances by Afrika Bambaataa, Chuck D of Public Enemy, The Soul Generals, Buckethead, Freekbass, Triage and many of Brown's surviving family members. Comedian Michael Coyer was the MC for the event. During the show, the mayor of Cincinnati proclaimed December 22 as James Brown Day.
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