'Godfather of Soul' James Brown dies in Atlanta
James Brown, the legendary singer known as the “Godfather of Soul”, has died in Atlanta, his agent said early on Monday. He was 73.
Brown was hospitalised on Sunday at Emory Crawford Long Hospital with pneumonia and died at about 1.45am on Monday, said his agent, Frank Copsidas, of Intrigue Music.
Long-time friend Charles Bobbit was by his side, Copsidas said.
The agent said Brown’s family was being notified of his death and that the cause was still uncertain.
Brown was seen as a crucial figure in the evolution of gospel and R&B into soul and funk. His music also spanned genres such as rock, jazz, reggae and hip-hop.
Along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and a handful of others, Brown was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years. At least one generation idolised him, and sometimes openly copied him. He is credited with bringing the word “funk” into mainstream musical vernacular.
Born James Joseph Brown Jnr on May 3 1933 in the small town of Barnwell, South Carolina, he served jail time as a teenager for armed robbery. After early release from prison he worked as a boxer and a baseball pitcher before he turned his attention to music, according to Wikipedia.
His music career took off in the 1950s and 1960s, with hit singles such as Night Train, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, Baby, You’re Right and I Got You (I Feel Good) topping the charts. Say It Out Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud was a landmark 1968 statement of racial pride.
He continued to feature on the music charts through the 1970s and became famous for his live performances, but had far fewer hit singles in the 1980s—among these was the Grammy-winning Living in America.
Sporting tight pants, shimmering feet, eye make-up and outrageous hair, Brown’s rapid-footed dancing inspired Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson, among others. Songs such as David Bowie’s Fame, Prince’s Kiss, George Clinton’s Atomic Dog and Sly and the Family Stone’s Sing a Simple Song were clearly based on Brown’s rhythms and vocal style.
He developed a trademark routine in which he would keep coming back on stage after a show and sing a few lines of Please, Please, Please with the sweat pouring from his bare-chested body. His stage crew would throw a cape over his back and he would leave, only to reappear seconds later on his knees, moaning the song into the microphone. The routine would sometimes go on for 30 to 40 minutes and send his fans delirious.
If his claim to the invention of soul can be challenged by fans of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, then his rights to the genres of rap, disco and funk are beyond question. He was to rhythm and dance music what Dylan was to lyrics: the unchallenged popular innovator.
“James presented obviously the best grooves,” rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy once told The Associated Press. “To this day, there has been no one near as funky. No one’s coming even close.”
Brown won a Grammy award for lifetime achievement in 1992, as well as Grammys in 1965 for Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (best R&B recording) and for Living in America in 1987 (best R&B vocal performance, male.) He was one of the initial artists inducted into the Rock’n'Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, along with Presley, Chuck Berry and other founding fathers.
He triumphed despite an often unhappy personal life. He spent more than two years in a South Carolina prison for aggravated assault and failing to stop for a police officer. After his release on in 1991, Brown said he wanted to “try to straighten out” rock music.
From the 1950s, when Brown had his first R&B hit, Please, Please, Please in 1956, through the mid-1970s, he went on a frenzy of cross-country tours, concerts and new songs. He earned the nickname “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business”.
Brown’s work has been replayed by the Fat Boys, Ice-T, Public Enemy and a host of other rappers. “The music out there is only as good as my last record,” Brown joked in a 1989 interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
“Disco is James Brown, hip-hop is James Brown, rap is James Brown; you know what I’m saying? You hear all the rappers, 90% of their music is me,” he told The Associated Press in 2003.
Four James Brown albums were listed by Rolling Stone magazine in 2003 as among the 500 greatest albums of all time—Live at the Apollo (1963), In the Jungle Groove (1986), Star Time (1991) and 20 All-Time Greatest Hits! (1991).