James Brown was an American singer, songwriter, bandleader, producer, and dancer. Known as the “Godfather of Soul,” he was the founding father of funk music and a major figure of 20th century popular music and dance. Brown influenced the development of several music genres in a career that spanned six decades.
Brown was born nearly stillborn, then revived by an aunt in a country shack in the woods outside Barnwell, South Carolina on May 3, 1933. Brown began his career as a gospel singer in Toccoa, Georgia. He joined an R&B vocal group called the Avons that later evolved to become the Flames and then the Famous Flames, and became the group’s lead singer. Hit ballads “Please, Please, Please” and “Try Me” brought national public attention in the late 1950s, as Brown built a reputation as a relentless 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 continued to perform and record until his death in 2006 from congestive heart failure.