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James Brown Biography


Home > Music > B > Brown, James > Biography


Birth Name: James Joseph Brown, Jr.
Born: 1933/05/03
Birth Place: Augusta, Georgia, United States
Died: 2006/12/25
Years Active: 1956-2006
Genres: R&B, Funk, Soul


James Joseph Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was an American singer and songwriter. Eventually referred to as "The Godfather of Soul", Brown started singing in gospel groups and worked his way on up. He has been recognized as one of the most iconic figures in the 20th century popular music and was renowned for his vocals and feverish dancing. Brown was recognized by numerous titles, including Soul Brother Number One, Sex Machine, Mr. Dynamite, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, The King of Funk, Minister of The New New Super Heavy Funk, Mr. Please Please Please Please Hemself, I Feel Good, and foremost The Godfather of Soul. In the song "Sweet Soul Music" by Arthur Conley, he is also described as the King of Soul.

A prolific singer, songwriter, dancer and bandleader, Brown was a pivotal force in the music industry, leaving his mark on numerous artists. Even as his own career declined during the height of the golden age of hip hop, Brown's work found new life in the form of digital sampling; he would go on to become the most sampled artist in the history of the genre. Brown's music also influenced the rhythms of African popular music, such as afrobeat, jùjú and mbalax, and provided a template for go-go music.

Brown began his professional music career in 1956 and rose to fame during the late 1950s and early 1960s on the strength of his thrilling live performances and string of smash hits. In spite of various personal problems and setbacks he continued to score hits in every decade through the 1980s. In addition to his acclaim in music, Brown was also a presence in American political affairs during the 1960s and 1970s.

During the mid-1960s, two of Brown's signature tunes "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)", both from 1965, were his first Top 10 pop hits, as well as major #1 R&B hits, with each remaining the top-selling singles in black venues for over a month. In 1966, Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" won the Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording. In his concert repertoire and on record, Brown mingled his innovative rhythmic essays with Broadway show tunes and ballads, such as his hit "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" (1966).

As the 1960s decade neared its end, Brown continued to refine the new funk idiom. Brown's 1967 #1 R&B hit, "Cold Sweat", sometimes cited as the first true funk song, was the first of his recordings to contain a drum break and 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.

By 1970, most members of James Brown's classic 1960s band had quit his act for other opportunities, and The Famous Flames singing group had disbanded, with original member Bobby Byrd the only one remaining with Brown. Brown and Byrd employed a new band that included future funk greats, such as bassist Bootsy Collins, Collins' guitarist brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins and trombonist and musical director Fred Wesley. This new backing band was dubbed "The J.B.'s", and the band made its debut on Brown's 1970 single "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine". Although The J.B.'s went through several lineup changes, with the first change occurring in 1971, the band remained Brown's most familiar backing band.

Brown's recordings during the 1970s exemplified his innovations from the previous twenty years. Compositions such as "The Payback" (1973), "Papa Don't Take No Mess", "Stoned to the Bone", and "Funky President (People It's Bad)" (1974), and "Get Up Offa That Thing" (1976) were among his most noted recordings during this time. His 1976 albums “Get Up Offa That Thing” and “Bodyheat” were Brown's first flirtations with disco rhythms and its slicker production techniques. While the albums “Mutha's Nature” (1977) and “Jam” 1980s (1978) did not generate chart hits, Brown's 1979 LP “The Original Disco Man” was a notable late addition to his oeuvre. This album featured the song "It's Too Funky in Here", which was his last top R&B hit of the decade.

He recorded “Gravity,” a modestly popular crossover album and the 1986 top 10 hit single "Living in America" (written by Dan Hartman), which was featured prominently in the “Rocky IV” film and soundtrack. In 1987, Brown won the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Living in America." Acknowledging his influence on modern hip-hop and R&B music, Brown collaborated with hip-hop artist Afrika Bambaataa on the single "Unity."

In 1988, Brown worked with the production team Full Force on the hip-hop influenced album I'm Real, which spawned a #5 R&B hit single, "Static".

In 1993, James Brown released the album “Universal James,” which spawned the singles "Can't Get Any Harder", "How Long" and "Georgia-Lina".

Brown's later LP releases during this time included the 1998 studio album “I'm Back” that featured the single "Funk on ah Roll", and the 2002 album “The Next Step” that featured the single "Killing is Out, School is In," both produced and co-written by Derrick Monk.

During his long career, Brown received several prestigious music industry awards and honors. In 1983, Brown was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. In addition, 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. 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 for the New York Songwriters Hall of Fame. On August 6, 2002, James Brown 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.