James Brown, Singer, Songwriter, Musician & Recording Artist   2 comments


James Joseph Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and recording artist. He is the originator of funk music and is a major figure of 20th century popular music and dance. He has been referred to by himself and others as “The Godfather of Soul“, “Mr. Dynamite“, “Soul Brother Number One” and “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business

James Brown was born in Barnwell, South Carolina on May 3, 1933 at 5:10pm to Susie Brown and Joseph (“Joe”) Gardner (who changed his surname to Brown after Mattie Brown who raised him). Although Brown was to be named after his father Joseph, his first and middle names were mistakenly reversed on his birth certificate. He therefore became James Joseph Brown, Jr.[1] As a young child, Brown was called Junior. When he later lived with his aunt and cousin, he was called Little Junior since his cousin’s nickname was also Junior.[1] He was of African American and Native American (Apache) descent through his father, and had Asian ancestry.[7][8]

As a young child, Brown and his family lived in extreme poverty[9] in nearby Elko, South Carolina, which at the time was an impoverished town in Barnwell County. When Brown was two years old, his parents separated after his mother left his father for another man.[10] After his mother abandoned the family, Brown continued to live with his father and his father’s live-in girlfriends until he was six years old.

His father sent him to live with an aunt, who ran a house of prostitution.[11] Even though Brown lived with relatives, he spent long stretches of time on his own, hanging out on the streets and hustling to get by.[9] Brown managed to stay in school until he dropped out in the seventh grade.[12]

During his childhood, Brown earned money shining shoes, sweeping out stores, selling and trading in old stamps, washing cars and dishes and singing in talent contests.[9] Brown also 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.[10][11] Between earning money from these adventures, Brown taught himself to play a harmonica given to him by his father.[10] He learned to play some guitar from Tampa Red, in addition to learning to play piano and drums from others he met during this time.[10] Brown was inspired to become an entertainer after watching Louis Jordan, a popular jazz and R&B performer during the 1940s, and Jordan’s Tympany Five performing “Caldonia” in a short film.[13]

As an adult, Brown legally changed his name to remove the “Jr.” designation.[14] In his spare time, Brown spent time practicing his various skills in Augusta-area stalls and committing petty crimes. At the age of sixteen, he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to a juvenile detention center upstate in Toccoa in 1949.[15]

In 1952, while Brown was still in reform school, he met future R&B legend Bobby Byrd, who was there playing baseball against the reform school team. Byrd saw Brown perform there and admired his singing and performing talent.[10] As a result of this friendship, Byrd’s family helped Brown secure an early release after serving three years of his sentence. The authorities agreed to release Brown on the condition that he would get a job and not return to Augusta or Richmond County. After stints as a boxer[16] and baseball pitcher in semi-professional baseball (a career move ended by a leg injury), Brown turned his energy toward music.[17]

Career

Brown’s career spanned decades, and profoundly influenced the development of many different musical genres.[18] Brown moves on a continuum of blues and gospel-based forms and styles to a profoundly Africanised approach to music making.[15] Brown performed in concerts, first making his rounds across the “chitlin’ circuit“, and then across the country and later around the world, along with appearing in shows on television and in movies. Although he contributed much to the music world through his hitmaking, Brown holds the record as the artist who charted the most singles on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever hitting number one on that chart.[9][19]

1955: The Famous Flames

In 1955, Brown and Bobby Byrd‘s sister Sarah performed in a group called “The Gospel Starlighters”. Eventually, Brown joined Bobby Byrd’s vocal group, the Avons, and Byrd turned the group’s sound towards secular rhythm and blues. After the group’s name was changed to The Flames, Brown and Byrd’s group toured the Southern “chitlin’ circuit“. The group eventually signed a deal with the Cincinnati, Ohio-based label Federal Records, a sister label of King Records. Brown’s early recordings were fairly straightforward gospel-inspired R&B compositions, heavily influenced by the work of contemporary musicians such as Ray Charles, Little Willie John, Clyde McPhatter and Little Richard.

Little Richard’s relations with Brown were particularly significant in Brown’s development as a musician and showman. Brown once called Richard his idol,[20] and credited Richard’s saxophone-studded mid-1950s road band, The Upsetters, with being the first to put the funk in the rock and roll beat.[21] Etta James recalled her first meeting with James Brown, in Macon, Georgia, where Brown had befriended Little Richard. She said Brown “used to carry around an old tattered napkin with him, because Little Richard had written the words, ‘please, please, please’ on it and James was determined to make a song out of it…”.[22] The resulting track “Please, Please, Please” ended up becoming The Flames first R&B hit in 1956,[23] selling over a million copies. However, nine subsequent singles released by The Flames failed to live up to the success of their debut, and the group was in danger of being dropped by Federal Records. When Little Richard left pop music in October 1957 to become a preacher, Brown filled out Little Richard’s remaining tour dates in his place. Further, several former members of Little Richard’s backup band joined Brown’s group after Richard’s exit from the pop music scene. Brown’s group returned to the charts, hitting #1 R&B in February 1959 with “Try Me“.[24] This hit record was the best-selling R&B single of the year, becoming the first of 17 chart-topping R&B singles by Brown over the next two decades.[25] By the time “Try Me” was released on record, the group’s billing was changed to James Brown and The Famous Flames. “The Famous Flames” was a vocal group, not a backing band.

In 1959, Brown and The Famous Flames moved from the Federal Records subsidiary to King Records, the parent label. Brown began to have recurring conflicts with King Records president Syd Nathan over repertoire and other matters. In one notable instance, Brown recorded the 1960 Top Ten R&B hit “(Do the) Mashed Potatoes” on Dade Records, owned by Henry Stone, under the pseudonym “Nat Kendrick & The Swans” because Nathan refused to allow him to record it for King.[26]

Early and mid-1960s

In 1962, the singer Tammi Terrell came to the attention of James Brown and the seventeen-year-old found herself in Brown’s popular Revue becoming one of Brown’s first female headliners. In 1963, Terrell recorded for Brown’s Try Me Records, releasing the ballad, “I Cried”, which gave her some chart success. Terrell and Brown also had a personal relationship, which was hampered by Brown’s physical abuse towards her. After a horrific incident backstage after a show, Terrell asked singer Gene Chandler (the “Duke of Earl”), who witnessed the incident first hand) to take her to the bus station so she could go home. He later called her mother to come pick her up. This ended Terrell’s two-year relationship with Brown. Brown scored on the charts in the early 1960s with recordings such as his 1962 cover of “Night Train“. While Brown’s early singles were major hits across the southern United States and then regular R&B Top Ten hits, he and the Famous Flames were not successful nationally until his self-financed live show was captured on the 1963 LP Live at the Apollo. Brown financed the recording of the album himself, and it was released on King Records over the objections of label owner Syd Nathan, who saw no commercial potential in a live album containing no new songs. Defying Nathan’s expectations, the album stayed on the pop charts for fourteen months, peaking at #2.[27] In addition, Brown recorded a hit version of the ballad “Prisoner of Love“, (his first Top 20 pop hit), in 1963 and founded (under King auspices) the fledgling Try Me Records, Brown’s first attempt at running a record label.

Brown (middle) & The Famous Flames (far left to right, Bobby Bennett, Lloyd Stallworth, and Bobby Byrd), performing live at the Apollo Theater in New York City, 1964. Brown’s band is on the far right.

Brown followed the success of Live at the Apollo with a string of singles that, along with the work of Allen Toussaint in New Orleans, essentially defined the foundation of Funk music. Driven by the success of Live at the Apollo and the failure of King Records to expand record promotion beyond the “black” market, James Brown and fellow Famous Flame Bobby Byrd formed a production company, Fair Deal, to promote sales of Brown’s record releases to white audiences. In this arrangement, Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records, was used as a vehicle to distribute Brown’s music. Smash released his 1964 hit “Out of Sight“, which reached #24 on the pop charts and pointed the way to his later funk hits.[28] Its release also triggered a legal battle between Smash and King that resulted in a one year ban on the release of Brown’s vocal recordings.[29]

During the mid-1960s, two of Brown’s signature tunes “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag[30] 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 (an award last given in 1968). Brown’s national profile was boosted further that year by appearances in the movie Ski Party and the concert film The T.A.M.I. Show, in which he and The Famous Flames (Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett and “Baby Lloyd” Stallworth) upstaged The Rolling Stones. 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).[30]

Late 1960s

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.[31][32] 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.

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”. At the time it was mentioned “Brown has also branched out into real estate and music publishing in recent months”.

Brown’s recordings influenced musicians across the industry, most notably Sly and his Family Stone, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s and soul shouters like King Curtis, Edwin Starr, Temptations David Ruffin, and Dennis Edwards. A then-prepubescent Michael Jackson took Brown’s shouts and dancing into the pop mainstream as the lead singer of Motown‘s The Jackson 5. 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,[33] with “Funky Drummer” itself becoming the most sampled individual piece of music.[34]

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 singer and sideman Bobby Byrd, drummers John “Jabo” Starks, Clyde Stubblefield and Melvin Parker (Maceo’s brother), saxophonist St. Clair Pinckney, trombonist Fred Wesley, guitarist Alphonso “Country” Kellum and bassist Bernard Odum.

During this period, Brown’s music empire also 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 radio station WRDW in Augusta, Georgia where he shined shoes as a boy.[30] Brown also branched out to make several recordings with musicians outside his own band. He recorded Gettin’ Down To It (1969) and Soul on Top (1970), two albums consisting mostly of romantic ballads and jazz standards, with the Dee Felice Trio and the Louie Bellson Orchestra respectively. He recorded a number of tracks with the Dapps, a white Cincinnati bar band, including the hit “I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me)”. He also released three albums of Christmas music with his own band.

1970s and the J.B.’s

Brown after a concert in Tampa on Jan. 29, 1972

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.

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, such as Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, Vicki Anderson and 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 (About It)” 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.

In 1972, James Brown, when asked, openly proclaimed his support of Richard Nixon against the Democrat, George McGovern,[35] and a nationwide boycott called by Black Democratic leaders damaged his status as the most successful Black entrepreneur in the country. Still, his popularity buoyed up his financial fortunes after a brief downturn, and he went on with his career, undaunted.

In 1973, Brown provided the score for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar. In 1974, he toured Africa and performed in Zaire 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 Brown 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.[36]

Brown’s Polydor recordings during the 1970s exemplified his innovations from the previous 20 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.

Late 1970s and 1980s

James Brown performing in 1973 in Hamburg

By the mid-1970s, Brown’s star-status was on the wane, and key musicians in his band such as Fred Wesley and Bootsy left to join Parliament-Funkadelic, the collective conducted by George Clinton. The onslaught of the slickly commercial style of disco caught Brown off guard, as it superseded his raw style of funk music on the dance floor. 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. Like the rest of the songs on The Original Disco Man, “It’s Too Funky in Here” was not produced by Brown himself, but produced instead by Brad Shapiro.

Brown’s contract with Polydor expired in 1981, and his recording and touring schedule was somewhat reduced. Despite these events, Brown experienced something of a resurgence during the 1980s, effectively crossing over to a broader, more mainstream audience. He appeared in the feature films The Blues Brothers, Doctor Detroit and Rocky IV, as well as guest starring in the Miami Vice episode “Missing Hours” (1988). He also recorded Gravity, a modestly popular crossover album released on his new host label Scotti Bros., 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. 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 as “The Godfather of Soul.” 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”. 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 late 1970s and early 1980s that hip hop founding father Kurtis Blow called the song “the national anthem of hip hop”.[37]

1990s to the 2000s

James Brown in Belgrade in 1993

After a stint in prison during the late 1980s, Brown released the album Love Overdue, with the new single “Move On”. Brown also released the 1991 four-CD box set Star Time, which included music spanning his four-decade career at that time. Nearly all of his earlier LPs were re-released on CD, often with additional tracks and commentary by experts on Brown’s music. In 1991, Brown appeared in MC Hammer‘s video “Too Legit to Quit” (or “2 Legit 2 Quit”), someone Hammer idolized. In 1993, James Brown released the album Universal James, which spawned the singles “Can’t Get Any Harder”, “How Long” and “Georgia-Lina”. In 1995, the live album Live at the Apollo 1995 was released, featuring the new studio track “Respect Me”, which was released as a single that same year. Brown followed up this single with the megamix “Hooked on Brown” that was released as a single in 1996. 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. Brown participated in the PBS American Masters television documentary James Brown: Soul Survivor, which was directed by Jeremy Marre.

Although Brown had various run-ins with the law, he continued to perform and record regularly, and he also made appearances in television shows and films, such as Blues Brothers 2000, and sporting events, such as his 2000 appearance at the World Championship Wrestling pay-per-view event SuperBrawl X. In Brown’s appearance at the SuperBrawl X event, he danced alongside wrestler Ernest “The Cat” Miller, whose character was based on Brown, during his in ring skit with The Maestro.[38] Brown was featured in Tony Scott‘s 2001 short film, Beat the Devil, alongside Clive Owen, Gary Oldman, Danny Trejo and Marilyn Manson.[39] 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 Brown was accidentally knocked out by Chan.[40] In 2002, Brown appeared in Undercover Brother, playing the role as himself.

Brown 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”. He also performed a duet with another British pop star, Joss Stone, a week earlier on the United Kingdom chat show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Before his death, Brown was scheduled to perform a duet with singer Annie Lennox on the song “Vengeance” for her new album Venus, scheduled for release in early 2007. 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. performance was in San Francisco on August 20, 2006, as headliner at the Festival of the Golden Gate (Foggfest) on the Great Meadow at Fort Mason. 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. 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.

James Brown Revue

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.[41] 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 ballads.[42] 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.[43][44]

Concert introduction

Before James Brown appeared on stage, his personal MC gave him an elaborate introduction accompanied by drumrolls, 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 1962 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 international[ly] 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!![45]

Among the MCs who worked with Brown and his revue through the years, Brown’s most famous MC was Danny Ray, who appeared on stage with him for over 30 years.

Concert repertoire and format

Brown and MC Danny Ray during cape routine, BBC Electric Proms ’06 concert

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.'”[46] 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 tuxedoes 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. Although Brown released many live albums, Say It Live & Loud: Live in Dallas 08.26.68, released by Polydor in 1998, was one of only a few audio recordings that captured a performance of the James Brown Revue from beginning to end.

Cape routine

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 show’s 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”.[47] 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.[45][48]

Brown performs a version of the cape routine over the closing credits of the film Blues Brothers 2000.

As band leader

Brown demanded extreme discipline, perfection and precision from his musicians and dancers — right down to when performers in his Revue showed up for rehearsals all the way to whether members wore the right “uniform” or “costume” for concert performances.[49] 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 stuff’s 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 ….
—Maceo Parker[50]

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.[17] 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.[51]

Social activism

Civil unrest and self-empowerment

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, James Brown was renowned for his social activism. In 1966, he released the single “Don’t Be a Drop-Out” as a lesson to young students who had thoughts of dropping out. He later made public speeches in front of dozens of children and advocated the importance of education in school. In 1967, he issued a patriotic single, “America is My Home”, which was a “rap” about how he felt people, particularly in the African-American community, were neglecting the country that he said “could give (them) opportunities” explaining how at one time he was shining shoes and the next, he was greeting the President of the United States as he did when President Lyndon B. Johnson thanked him for donating money to school drop-out prevention programs.

In 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Brown released “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud[30] following pressure from fans to take a stance on the civil rights movement, an issue he had avoided up until this point. It became an anthem of the civil rights movement. Brown later said of it in his 1986 autobiography “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.”

He performed in front of a televised audience in Boston the day after Dr. King’s death.[30] Brown is often given credit for preventing rioting with the performance.[52] Mayor Kevin White strongly restrained the Boston Police from cracking down on minor violence and protests after the assassination,[52] and Boston religious and community leaders worked to keep tempers from flaring.[52] Also, White arranged to have the Brown performance broadcast multiple times on Boston’s public television station, WGBH, thus keeping many potential rioters off the streets, watching the concert for free. 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 after the concert, news of which would have been a political death-blow to White, and possibly sparked riots on its own.[52] White successfully 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; The Vault contributed $100,000 to such programs, and Brown received $15,000 from them via the city. White persuaded management at the Boston Garden to give up their share of receipts to make up the difference.[52] The story is documented in the PBS film “The Night James Brown Saved Boston”.

Afterwards, President Johnson urged Brown to visit Washington, D.C. to greet inner-city residents there performing at a benefit concert there and expressed the notion that violence “wasn’t the way to go”. Many in the black community felt that Brown was speaking out to them more than some major leaders in the country, a sentiment that was strengthened with the release of his groundbreaking landmark single, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud“.

Brown continued performing benefit concerts for various civil rights organizations including Jesse Jackson‘s PUSH and The Black Panther Party‘s Breakfast program throughout the early-1970s. Brown also continued to release socially conscious singles such as “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself)” (1969), “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” (1971), “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing” (1972), “King Heroin” (1972), “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” (1974) and “Reality” (1975). The week before his death, Brown took time to give Christmas presents to an orphanage in Atlanta.

Personal life

At the end of his life, James Brown lived in a riverfront home in Beech Island, South Carolina, directly across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia. James Brown was diagnosed with diabetes at a very early stage of his life.[53] Brown was once diagnosed with prostate cancer, which was successfully treated with surgery.[54] Regardless of his health, Brown maintained his reputation as the “hardest working man in show business” by keeping up with his grueling performance schedule. However, James Brown led as colorful a life on stage with his performances, as he had off stage with his troubles with the law and his last marriage in particular.

Marriages and children

Brown was married three times — Velma Warren (1953–1969, divorced), Deidre “Deedee” Jenkins (22 October 1970–10 January 1981, divorced) and Adrienne Lois Rodriguez (born 9 March 1950) (1984–1996, wife’s death). He also had a relationship with Tomi Rae Hynie (2001–2004). From these and other relationships, James Brown had five sons — Teddy Brown (1954–1973), Terry Brown, and Larry Brown, Daryl Brown (a member of Brown’s backing band) and James Joseph Brown II, in addition to four daughters — Lisa Brown, Dr. Yamma Noyola Brown Lumar, Deanna Brown Thomas and Venisha Brown.[2][55][56] Brown also had eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.[2][55] Brown’s eldest son, Teddy, died in a car crash on 14 June 1973.[57] According to a 22 August 2007 article published in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, DNA tests indicate that Brown also fathered at least three illegitimate children. The only one of them who has been identified is LaRhonda Pettit (born 1962), a retired air stewardess and teacher who lives in Houston.[58]

Brown-Hynie marriage controversy

Much controversy surrounds Tomi Rae Hynie’s marriage to James Brown on December 23, 2002, officiated by Rev. Larry Fryer.[59] Brown’s longtime attorney, Albert “Buddy” Dallas, reported that the marriage between Brown and Hynie was not valid because Hynie was married at that time to Javed Ahmed, a Bangladeshi whom Hynie claimed married her for a Green Card in an immigration fraud. Although Hynie stated that her marriage to Javed Ahmed was later annulled, this annulment did not occur until April 2004.[59][60] In an interview on CNN with Larry King, Hynie produced a 2001 marriage certificate as proof of her marriage to James Brown, but she did not provide King with court records pointing to an annulment of her marriage to him or to Ahmed.[61]

According to Dallas, Brown was angry and hurt that Hynie concealed her prior marriage from him, and that Brown moved to file for annulment from Hynie.[62] Dallas added that, although Hynie’s marriage to Javed Ahmed was annulled after she married James Brown, the Brown-Hynie marriage was not valid under South Carolina law because Brown and Hynie did not remarry after the annulment.[61][63] In August 2003, Brown took out a full-page public notice in Variety Magazine featuring Hynie, James II and himself on vacation at Disney World to announce that he and Hynie were going their separate ways.[64][65]

Paternity of James Brown II

In a separate CNN interview, Debra Opri, another Brown family attorney, revealed to Larry King that Brown wanted a DNA test performed after his death to confirm the paternity of James Brown II — not for Brown’s sake, but for the sake of the other family members.[66] In April 2007, Hynie selected a guardian ad litem whom she wants appointed by the court to represent her son, James Brown II, in the paternity proceedings.[67]

Legal issues

Brown’s personal life was marred by several brushes with the law:

At the age of 16, he was arrested for theft and served 3 years in prison.

In 1988, Brown was arrested following an alleged high-speed car chase on Interstate 20 along the GeorgiaSouth Carolina state border. He was convicted of carrying an unlicensed pistol and assaulting a police officer, along with various drug-related and driving offenses. Although he was sentenced to six years in prison, he was eventually released in 1991 after serving only three years of his sentence. Brown’s FBI file, released to The Washington Post in 2007 under the Freedom of Information Act,[68] related Brown’s claim that the high-speed chase did not occur as claimed by the police, and that local police shot at his car several times during an incident of police harassment and assaulted him after his arrest.[69] Local authorities found no merit to Brown’s accusations.

In another incident, the police were summoned to Brown’s residence on July 3, 2000 after he was accused of charging an electric company repairman with a steak knife when the repairman visited Brown’s house to investigate a complaint about having no lights at the residence.[70]

In 2003, Brown was pardoned by the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services for past crimes that he was convicted of committing in South Carolina.[71]

During the 1990s and 2000s (decade), Brown was repeatedly arrested for domestic violence:

Adrienne Rodriguez, his third wife, had him arrested four times between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s on charges of assault.

In January 2004, Brown was arrested in South Carolina on a domestic violence charge after Tomi Rae Hynie accused him of pushing her to the floor during an argument at their home, where she suffered scratches and bruises to her right arm and hip. Later that year in June 2004, Brown pleaded no contest to the domestic violence incident, but served no jail time. Instead, Brown was required to forfeit a US$1,087 bond as punishment.[72]

In January 2005, a woman named Jacque Hollander filed a lawsuit against James Brown, which stemmed from an alleged 1988 forcible rape. When the case was initially heard before a judge in 2002, Hollander’s claims against Brown were dismissed by the court as the limitations period for filing the suit had expired. Hollander claimed that stress from the alleged assault later caused her to contract Graves’ Disease, a thyroid condition. Hollander claimed that the incident took place in South Carolina while she was employed by Brown as a publicist. Hollander alleged that, during her ride in a van with Brown, Brown pulled over to the side of the road and sexually assaulted her while he threatened her with a shotgun. In her case against Brown, Hollander entered as evidence a DNA sample and a polygraph result, but the evidence was not considered due to the limitations defense. Hollander later attempted to bring her case before the Supreme Court but nothing became of her complaint.[73]

Death and aftermath

Death

James Brown memorial in Augusta, Georgia

On December 23, 2006, James Brown, in ill health, showed up at his dentist’s office in Atlanta, Georgia several hours later than his appointment for dental implant work. During that visit, Brown’s dentist observed that Brown looked “very bad … weak and dazed.” Instead of performing the dental work, the dentist advised Brown to see a doctor right away about his medical condition.[11]

Brown checked in at the Emory Crawford Long Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia on December 24, 2006 for a medical evaluation of his condition, and he was admitted to the hospital for observation and treatment.[74] According to Charles Bobbit, Brown’s longtime personal manager and friend, Brown had been sick and suffering with a noisy cough since he returned from a November trip to Europe.[11] Bobbit also added that it was characteristic of Brown to never tell or complain to anyone that he was sick, and that Brown frequently performed during illness.[11] Although Brown had to cancel upcoming shows in Waterbury, Connecticut and Englewood, New Jersey, Brown was confident that the doctor would discharge him from the hospital in time to perform the New Year’s Eve shows.

For the New Year’s celebrations, Brown was scheduled to perform at the Count Basie Theatre in New Jersey and at the B. B. King Blues Club in New York, in addition to performing a song live on CNN for the Anderson Cooper New Year’s Eve special.[74] However, Brown remained hospitalized, and his medical condition worsened throughout that day.

On December 25, 2006, Brown died at approximately 1:45 AM EST (06:45 UTC) from congestive heart failure resulting from complications of pneumonia, with his agent Frank Copsidas and his friend Paul Sargent at his bedside.[75] According to Sargent, Brown stuttered “I’m going away tonight”, and then Brown took three long, quiet breaths and fell asleep before dying.[3]

Memorial services

Public memorial for Brown at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, 2006

After Brown’s death on Christmas day, Brown’s relatives and friends, a host of celebrities and thousands of fans attended public memorial services at the Apollo Theater in New York on December 28, 2006 and at the James Brown Arena on December 30, 2006 in Augusta, Georgia.[55] A separate, private memorial service was also held in North Augusta, South Carolina on December 29, 2006,[2] which was attended by Brown’s family and close friends. Celebrities who attended Brown’s public and/or private memorial services included Michael Jackson, Jimmy Cliff, Joe Frazier, Buddy Guy, Ice Cube, Ludacris, Dr. Dre, Little Richard, Dick Gregory, MC Hammer, Prince, Jesse Jackson, Ice-T, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bootsy Collins, LL Cool J, Lil Wayne, Lenny Kravitz, 50 Cent, Stevie Wonder, and Don King, among others.[76][77][78][79] All of the public and private memorial services were officiated by Rev. Al Sharpton.[80][81]

Brown’s public and private memorial ceremonies were elaborate, complete with costume changes for Brown and videos featuring him in concert performances. Brown’s body, which was placed in a Promethean casket, which is bronze polished to a golden shine, was driven through the streets of New York to the Apollo Theater in a white, glass-encased horse-drawn carriage.[82][83] In Augusta, Georgia, the procession for Brown’s public memorial visited Brown’s statue as the procession made its way to the James Brown Arena. During the public memorial at the James Brown Arena, nachos and pretzels were served to mourners, as a video showed Brown’s last performance in Augusta, Georgia and the Ray Charles version of “Georgia On My Mind” played soulfully in the background.[84][85][86] Brown’s last backup band, The Soul Generals, also played the music of Brown’s hits during the memorial service at the James Brown Arena. The group was joined by Bootsy Collins on bass, with MC Hammer performing a dance in James Brown style.[87] Former Temptations lead singer Ali-Ollie Woodson performed “Walk Around Heaven All Day” at the memorial services.[88]

Last will and testament

James Brown signed his last will and testament on August 1, 2000, before Strom Thurmond, Jr., an attorney for Brown’s estate.[89] The irrevocable trust, separate and apart from Brown’s will, was created on Brown’s behalf in 2000 by his attorney, Albert “Buddy” Dallas, who was named as one of three personal representatives of Brown’s estate. Brown’s will covered the disposition of his personal assets, such as clothing, cars and jewelry, while Brown’s irrevocable trust covered the disposition of music rights, business assets of James Brown Enterprises and Brown’s Beech Island estate in South Carolina.[90]

During the reading of Brown’s will on January 11, 2007, Thurmond revealed that Brown’s six adult living children (Terry Brown, Larry Brown, Daryl Brown, Yamma Brown Lumar, Deanna Brown Thomas and Venisha Brown) were named in the will. Hynie and James II were not mentioned in the will as parties who could inherit Brown’s property.[89][91] Brown’s will was signed ten months before James II was born and more than a year before Brown’s marriage to Tomi Rae Hynie. Like Brown’s will, his irrevocable trust also did not mention Hynie and James II as recipients of Brown’s property. The irrevocable trust was established before, and had not been amended since, the birth of James II.[92]

On January 24, 2007, Brown’s children filed a lawsuit against the personal representatives of Brown’s estate. In their petition, Brown’s children asked the court to remove the personal representatives of Brown’s estate (including Brown’s attorney and estate’s trustee, Albert “Buddy” Dallas) and appoint a special administrator because of perceived impropriety and alleged mismanagement of Brown’s assets.[93][94] To challenge the validity of the will and irrevocable trust, Hynie also filed a lawsuit against Brown’s estate on January 31, 2007. In her lawsuit against Brown’s estate, Hynie asked the court to recognize her as Brown’s widow, and she also asked the court to appoint a special administrator for the estate.[95]

Burial at temporary site

After the public and private memorial services in late December 2006, James Brown’s body remained in his casket for a time in a temperature-controlled room at his estate. Brown’s casket was later moved to an undisclosed location, while his children and Tomi Rae Hynie became embroiled in disputes about Brown’s final resting place and matters related to probating his will.[96] More than ten weeks after Brown’s death and the public and private memorial services, Brown’s children and Hynie decided on a temporary burial site for James Brown. Brown was buried on March 10, 2007 in a crypt at the home of Deanna Brown Thomas, one of Brown’s daughters who also held a private ceremony for the temporary burial.[97] The private ceremony for the temporary burial, officiated by Al Sharpton, was attended by Brown’s family and a host of friends.

According to Brown’s family, Brown’s body will remain buried at the temporary site while a public mausoleum is built for him and a decision has been made for Brown’s final resting place.[97][98] To turn Brown’s estate into a visitor attraction, Brown’s family plans to consult with the family of Elvis Presley for guidance about converting the estate into an attraction similar to Graceland.[97][99]

Dallas, Brown’s long time attorney and one of the trustees for Brown’s estate, did not attend the private service for the temporary burial. He expressed his disapproval and disappointment with the temporary burial arrangement with the comment “Mr. Brown’s not deserving of anyone’s backyard.” According to Dallas, the trustees for Brown’s estate “had made arrangements for Brown to be laid to rest at no cost at a ‘very prominent memorial garden in Augusta.'”[100]

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Posted February 15, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Musicians, Singer, Songwriter / Composer

2 responses to “James Brown, Singer, Songwriter, Musician & Recording Artist

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  1. Would you mind if I linked back to this post?

  2. Greetings from Ohio! I’m bored at work so I decided to check out your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the information you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m shocked at how quick your blog loaded on my phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, wonderful site!

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