Entertainment Profile: James Brown
by Kenney Dennard
A man of many titles such as, "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," "Soul Brother Number One," "Mr. Dynamite" and many others, James Brown captured the world's attention with his dancing, showmanship and soulful crooning in the 1960's and 70's while influencing music and black culture for a years to come. He's left a legacy of memories and tunes and has set his title, "The Godfather of Soul," in stone, never to be replaced.
Brown was born in Elko South Carolina, which is just miles away from Augusta, GA. He and his family were extremely poor. At age 2, after his mother disappeared with another man, he moved with his father to Augusta. He would eventually live with an aunt that ran a house of prostitution. At an early age, James hung out on the streets hustling to make money to get by. He ended up dropping out of school by seventh grade. At age 16, he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to a juvenile detention center upstate in 1949. While there, James began to work on his singing and dancing abilities. He became close friends with Bobby Byrd, who was an admirer of his performances.
After 3 years, Brown was released under the condition that he would get a job and not return to Augusta. After stints as a boxer and baseball pitcher, James turned his energy toward performing music.
Brown would start out with Byrd's vocal group, the Avon's. They later changed the name to The Flames and toured the south's "Chitlin' Circuit." They would eventually sign a deal with Federal Records and change their name again to The Famous Flames.
James Brown was a big fan of Little Richard. The two had become friends and Brown would spend a lot of time in Richard's hometown, Macon, GA. It was in Macon's WIBB radio station that Brown would record his first big hit, "Please, Please, Please," in 1956. Little Richard left the music business to become a preacher around this time. James would finish the tour dates that Richard had walked out on. Many members of Little Richard's band would join Brown's. Brown then enjoyed the success of his first number one record, "Try Me." It became the best selling R&B record of the year. His stage shows were untouched by anyone. James did dances that had never been seen before at the time. His performances were famous for his intensity and length. Brown worked vigorously as he sang, working popular dance steps such as The Mashed Potato into his routine along with dramatic leaps, splits and slides.
As the 60's began, James would have more and more hits. He was big mostly though in the south. In 1963, he financed his own album, "Live at the Apollo," and began to be a national sensation. He then enjoyed the success of several hit singles. "Papa's Got a Brand new Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)," both released in 1965, were his first Top 10 pop hits. He would win a Grammy for "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" the following year. As the decade ended, James Brown's music got funkier and funkier. Many credit his 1967 hit, "Cold Sweat," as the first true funk song.
In 1967, Brown purchased radio station WGYW in Knoxville, Tennessee for a reported $75,000. He changed the name to WJBE, reflecting his initials.
Brown's music began to influence many of his peers such as Sly and the Family Stone, King Curtis, The Temptations David Ruffin and a young Michael Jackson who performed James Brown hits on his demonstration performance with his brothers for Motown's Berry Gordy, Jr. The next decade, as Hip Hop music became a force in music, many of the DJ's sampled James Brown tunes. James remains to this day the most sampled recording artist in history and his song, "Funky Drummer," is the most sampled individual piece of music.
As the Civil Rights movement grew, James would become a vocal leader by his music. His, "Say it Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud," made a profound statement and helped to pump self pride and awareness to Blacks everywhere at the time. Many consider it the anthem of the movement.
As the 70's began, many members of Brown's band began to leave for other opportunities. He and Bobby Byrd then put together a band with many funk greats such as Bootsy Collins and Fred Wesley. The band was named, "The J.B.'s." Brown recorded more and more hits with the J.B.'s including, "I Know You Got Soul," "Think (About It) and "Doing it to Death."
In 1973, Brown provided the score for the blaxplotation film, "Black Caesar." In 1974, he toured Africa and performed in Zaire as a part of the build up to the "Rumble in the Jungle" fight between Mohammad Ali and George Forman. He came back to the states and continued with a slew of hits including, "The Payback," "Papa Don't take No Mess," "Funky President (People it's Bad)" and "Get up Offa hat Thang."
By the end of the 70's after 3 decades of being on top of music, James star began to swan. Fred Wesley and Bootsy Collins left his band to join George Clinton in Parliament Funkadelic. As the 80's emerged, Brown made more movie appearances such as "Dr. Detroit," "The Blues Brothers" and "Rocky IV," where he also resurfaced with the number one song, "Living in America."
Toward the end of his life, James lived in Beech Island, S.C., directly across the Savannah River from Augusta, GA. On Christmas Day, 2006 while in the hospital in Atlanta GA, James Brown died of Congestive Heart Failure, resulting from complications of pneumonia. According to his friend, Paul Sargent, who was at his bedside, James stuttered, "I'm going away tonight," then took three long, quiet breaths and fell asleep before dying.
Brown has won dozens of awards and achievements in his lifetime but his name will go down for years as one of the greatest performers ever.
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