Born: May 3, 1933 | Died: December 25, 2006 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
James Brown - American Icon (1933 - 2006)
James Brown was and will always be a true legend in every sense of the word. He will be missed by millions but his influence on music, culture and the countless number of lives he touched will carry on for decades to come.
Mr. James Brown's dynamic showmanship remains timeless. His style has been celebrated throughout generations. As one of the most sampled artists to date, he has more honors attached to his name than any other performer in music history.
Mr. Brown is a three-figure hitmaker with 114 total entries on Billboard's R&B singles charts and 94 that made the Hot 100 singles chart. Seventeen of these hits reached number one, a feat topped only by Stevie Wonder and Louis Jordan. Over the years, while maintaining a grueling touring schedule, James Brown amassed 800 songs in his repertoire. With his signature one-three beat, James Brown directly influenced the evolutionary beat of soul music in the Sixties, funk music in the Seventies and rap music in the Eighties. I
James Brown's life history contains many triumphs over adversity.
He was born in South Carolina during the Great Depression. As a child, he picked cotton, danced for spare change and shined shoes. At 16, he landed in reform school for three years where he met Bobby Byrd, leader of a gospel group and life-long friend. Mr. Brown tried semi-pro boxing and baseball, but a leg injury put him on the path to pursue music as a career.
James Brown joined his friend Bobby Byrd in a group that sang gospel in and around Toccoa, Georgia. After seeing Hank Ballard and Fats Domino in a blues revue, Byrd and Brown were lured into the realm of secular music. Naming their band the Flames, they formed a tightly knit ensemble of singers, dancers and multi-instrumentalists.
Mr. Brown instilled the essence of R&B with recordings under the King and Federal labels throughout the Sixties. With albums such as Live at the Apollo, Mr. Brown captured the energy and hysteria generated by his live performances. People who had never seen him in person could hear and feel the excitement of him screaming and hollering until his back was soaking wet. Convinced that such an album would not sell, King Records refused to produce the album.
Mr. Brown put up his own money and recorded the performance at the Apollo Theater in 1962.
Released nearly a year later, Live At The Apollo went to Number Two on Billboard's album chart, an unprecedented feat for a live R&B album. Radio stations played it with a frequency formerly reserved for singles, and attendance at Mr. Brown's concerts mushroomed.
As the leader of the James Brown Revue (The J.B.'s), James Brown sweated off up to seven pounds a night through captivating performances. His furious regimen of spins, drops, and shtick such as feigning a heart attack thrilled crowds. The ritual donning of capes and skintight rhythm & blues became part of his personal trademark as a performer.
Mr. Brown's transformation of gospel fervor into the taut, explosive intensity of rhythm & blues, combined with precision choreography and dynamic showmanship, defined the direction of black music from the release of his first R&B hit (Please Please Please) in 1956. In 1965, Brown scored his first Top 10 pop single with Papa's Got A Brand New Bag, and the hits kept coming one after another for the next decade.
The gospel and blues structure of his early records gave way to rhythmic vocals and a complex funk sound. His innovations during this period had a profound influence on popular music styles around the world.
James Brown's status as The Godfather of Soul remains undiminished. He continues to influence new generations of fans who often hear his funk grooves as samples on rap recordings. A charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mr. Brown added to his collection of accolades when he received a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 1992. James Brown passed away December 25, 2006.
James Brown has had the privilege of working with numerous talented people over the years. Many played in the bands that supported Mr. Brown throughout his career.
The Famous Flames Mr. Brown’s first band was the Gospel Starlighters, a quartet led by his friend Bobby Byrd. In 1952, the Starlighters had a raw southern gospel style. Their style later evolved into a Rythm and Blues sound. With this transition, they took on a new name - the Avons.
Under the influence of such Rock and Roll acts as Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Fats Domino, and others, the group became known as the Flames.The band members that made up the Flames included James Brown, Bobby Byrd, Sylvester Keels, Doyle Oglesby, Fred Pullman, Nash Knox, Roy Scott and (later on guitar) Nafloyd Scott. Each band member sang, danced, and played an instrument.
For the original Flames lineup of 1956, James Brown played the drums, while Bobby Byrd played the piano. Many members came and left the band over the years, but Bobby Byrd remained Mr. Brown's sideman for the next three decades. Federal Records signed the Famous Flames (as they were now called) in 1956. It was under the Federal label that “Please Please Please” became their first hit single, and sold over a million copies. James Brown was now considered to be the leader of the group.
In 1957, after the surprise retirement of Little Richard, James Brown played with the Upsetters and the Dominions. James Brown filled Little Richard’s remaining bookings and recruited new band members from the Dominions.
Although James Brown and the Flames continued to make records for Federal, they did not top the charts again for three years. In 1958, “Try Me” became the band’s first number one R&B record. In 1962, James Brown recorded “Live at the Apollo”, which reached number two on the R&B charts. As James Brown evolved as a musician, his gospel and blues style gave way to the creation of a new musical genre - funk. Weakened by frequent break-ups and style changes, the Famous Flames and James Brown performed together for the last time in 1964.
The JB’s To push his funk sound to new level, James Brown formed the James Brown Revue - a performing group complete with dancers, emcee and a show-stopping stage band called the J.B.’s.Talented horn players, such as Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, formed the backbone of the band.
With the addition of Bootsy Collins and other young musicians, James Brown’s band developed a new rhythmic bass sound creating the dynamic music that brought James Brown to the R&B forefront.
The J.B.’s created new arrangements of James Brown songs. For example, “Give It Up, Turn It Loose” evolved into “Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine.” The fans loved the new sound, which formed the legend behind the magic of the J.B.’s.
The list of influential musicians that have worked with James Brown is extensive. After leaving the James Brown band, many band members have moved on to obtain their own success in the music business. For example, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker left the J.B.’s to join Parliament/Funkedelic.
The women who sang in the James Brown Revue formed the James Brown Original Funky Divas and released records of their own throughout the 60’s and 70’s.
Others artists have recorded albums and singles produced and written by James Brown. The most notable of these artists include Fred Wesley & The JB's, Maceo & The Macks, Bobby Byrd, and Lyn Collins. Other artists produced by James Brown include Vicki Anderson, Hank Ballard, Yvonne Fair, James Crawford, Marva Whitney, The Dapps, Alfred Pee Wee Ellis and the Above Average Black Band (A.A.B.B.).