James Brown – Godfather of Soul
James Brown was an influential African- American singer in the 1950s and 1960s. He was also called the Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother Number 1, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. His relentless energy and insatiable appetite kept him in the headlines. Brown is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has won numerous awards for his recordings.
James Brown Jr was born on May 3, 1933 in Barnwell, South Carolina. The family lived in a shack in the woods without plumbing or electricity. His father made a living by selling tree tar to a turpentine company. He was the only child in the family. His mother left when her son was just four years old. The boy moved to his aunt’s Georgia home, where he met blues guitarist Tampa Red, who taught the young man guitar. Leon Austin and a Mr. Dink taught him piano and drums respectively. Brown earned money for rent and clothing by buck dancing for soldiers and by shining shoes.
At the age of 11, Brown won an amateur-night contest at the Lenox Theater for singing So Long and started a trio called Cremona in which he played piano, drums, and sang.
In his late teens Brown was convicted of petty crimes. In prison, he formed a gospel quartet. There he met musician Bobby Byrd, with whom he would later have a long-lasting professional relationship.
Brown joined Byrd’s group The Avons and promoted the name change to The Flames. The first major hit was Please, Please, Please (1956), an R&B smash that sold over a million copies and confirmed Brown as a fine songwriter. By 1958, his group was billed as James Brown & The Famous Flames. In 1958, Try Me was the R&B biggest-selling hit of the year.
Brown endorsed Humphrey for President in 1968 and Nixon in 1972, and performed at Duke Ellington’s inaugural gala for Nixon in January of 1969.
In 1973, his son Teddy died in an automobile accident.
In the 1970s, Brown turned to religion and began to play in rock clubs in New York. He appeared in several films, including the role of a gospel-singing preacher in The Blues Brothers (1980), a part in Dr. Detroit (1983), and a cameo appearance in Rocky IV (1985), in which he sang Living in America.
In March 1992, he appeared at New York’s Paramount Theater with his new band, the Soul Generals and his female backup group, the Bittersweets. In the same year he was honored at the American Music Awards ceremonies with an Award of Merit for his lifetime contribution to the genre.
73-year-old musician died of pneumonia on Christmas Day of 2006.
In 2014, American film director Tate Taylor released a biographical film about James Brown, entitled Get On Up.