The Dec. 26 obituary of entertainer James Brown incorrectly said that early in his career he sang in Georgia churches with Bobby Brown. The longtime friend with whom he sang was Bobby Byrd.
Hardworking Godfather of Soul
Tuesday, December 26, 2006; Page A01
James Brown, the high-energy Godfather of Soul who left his signature beat on funk, R&B, disco and rap and electrified generations with his riveting onstage performances, died early yesterday at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta. He was 73 and had been hospitalized with pneumonia since Sunday.
Brown's music transcended generations and musical genres, beginning in the mid-1950s and continuing to the present. His sliding, gliding, sweat-breaking dance steps and splits and jumps brought audiences to their feet the world over. With his pompadour, showy outfits and a repertoire of songs that defied inertia, he was a phenomenal performer.
As one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years, he remained in a rarefied league with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and few others. Brown, also called the "hardest-working man in show business," was a visionary and an innovator who pushed music to new places. He also was a songwriter, bandleader, record producer, philanthropist and civil rights activist.
Despite a life plagued with personal problems and run-ins with the law, Brown continued to wow audiences with his throaty vocals and pulsating rhythms. He had planned to appear in New York on New Year's Eve, said his agent, Frank Copsidas.
Over the years, Brown sent audiences into states of frenzy when he dramatized his first R&B hit, "Please, Please, Please" (1956), on stage. As a finale, Brown would walk off stage, body bent with fatigue. He would stop, drop to one knee and wait for a band member to drape a cape around his shoulders. As he was being led away, Brown would toss the cape off, run to the microphone and start begging again, "Baby, please don't go, don't go. . . . I love you so." The audience would go wild as band members wailed on their horns.
Jonathan Lethem, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, described watching Brown entertain as a "feast of adoration and astonishment."
"For to see James Brown dance and sing, to see him lead his mighty band with the merest glances and tiny flickers of signal from his hands; to see him offer himself to his audience to be adored and enraptured and ravished; to watch him tremble and suffer as he tears his screams and moans of lust, glory and regret from his sweat-drenched body . . . is not to see: It is to behold," Lethem wrote.
Brown changed the course of African American music in the 1960s and 1970s, said Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West in their book, "The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country" (2000).
"Mr. Brown, as he likes to be known, rapped and crooned before his time, used vibrant horn, raunchy rock and roll guitar, and driving bass overlaid with a grunting, familiar voice like the sound of a moving train," Gates and West wrote. "His persona prefigured the flamboyance of the disco years, of techno-funk humor, of the era of his royal highness known as Prince."
Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger aspired to dance like Brown; Elvis Presley was said to have studied Brown's choreography on film.
His signature one-three beat can be heard on music from Ice-T, the Fat Boys, Public Enemy and many others who used the digital technique known as sampling to incorporate Brown's lyrics and rhythms into their own works.
His musical legacy includes more than 900 songs, among them: "I Got You ( I Feel Good)" (1965), "Cold Sweat" (1967), "Sex Machine (1970), "Hot Pants" (1971) and "The Payback" (1973). His "Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud" (1969) became an anthem during the civil rights movement.
Brown's live recording at the famed Apollo Theater in October 1962 was considered a pivotal event in his career and was declared one of the greatest 100 moments in rock music in the 1960s by Entertainment Weekly. The recording, which was released three months later, "marked the beginning of Brown's transformation from minor R&B star into soul's greatest bandleader," the magazine said in 1999. The live recording also created a template for Sly Stone and George Clinton to follow.
In 1965, Brown's "Pappa's Got a Brand New Bag" won a Grammy for best R&B recording, and in 1987, his "Living in America" single, which is heard in the movie "Rocky IV," received one for best male R&B vocal performance. In 1992, he won a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.
He was one of the initial artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986, along with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino and Buddy Holly. In 2003, he was honored by the John F. Kennedy Center of Performing Arts.
In a statement yesterday, President Bush called Brown "an American original" and noted that his fans came from all walks of life. "For half a century, the innovative talent of the 'Godfather of Soul' enriched our culture and influenced generations of musicians," the president said.
Brown recognized his place in history.
"Others may have followed in my wake, but I was the one who turned racist minstrelsy into black soul -- and by doing so, became a cultural force," Brown wrote in "I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul" (2004).
Early in his life, Brown learned to wrestle success out of adversity. Born James Joe Brown Jr. on May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, S.C., he was abandoned by his mother at age 4. His father took him to Augusta, Ga., where he lived with an aunt who ran a brothel.
As a youngster, he picked cotton, worked odd jobs and shined shoes "in order to survive as a little black boy growing up in the South," he once said.
"I started shining shoes at 3 cents, then went up to 5 cents, then 6 cents. I never did get up to a dime. I was 9 years old before I got a pair of underwear from a real store; all my clothes were made from sacks and things like that. But I knew I had to make it. I had the determination to go on, and my determination was to be somebody."
Dropping out of school by 12 to help support his family, Brown sang and danced for soldiers at nearby Fort Gordon and helped his father wash cars. He also ventured into larceny, breaking and entering and stealing cars, and at 16 spent three years in reform school for his thefts. From 1953 to 1955, he turned to boxing and semiprofessional baseball.
Then with longtime friend Bobby Brown, he sang gospel in churches in Toccoa, Ga., before forming James Brown and the Famous Flames. The group moved to Macon, Ga., and performed during an intermission of a Little Richard show.
In 1956, the group, then known as the Flames, cut its first record, "Please, Please, Please," which later became Brown's signature piece. Brown, a driven bandleader and businessman, built a close-knit ensemble of singers, dancers and musicians, numbering 40 members at one point. For decades, he maintained a grueling schedule on the road, selling out theaters along the way.
Some say Brown's migration from R&B megastar to cultural icon came in 1968 in the heat of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Preparing for a concert at the Boston Garden, he took to the airwaves and urged viewers not to dishonor King's memory by turning to violence.
He continued his message of self-reliance and education in songs such as "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I'll Get It Myself)."
He traveled to Vietnam to perform for U.S. troops, spoke out about the importance of job opportunities and surprised and angered some by endorsing Richard M. Nixon for president in 1968.
As a businessman, he once owned James Brown Productions, three recording companies, two real estate concerns, several radio stations and publishing companies before falling into trouble with the Internal Revenue Service in the late 1970s.
In the 1980s, as he began to make a musical comeback, other problems got in the way. Among them were drug and alcohol abuse and charges of hitting his third wife, Adrienne.
In 1988, he was high on PCP and carrying a shotgun when he entered an insurance seminar next to his Augusta office. He then led police on a half-hour chase from Augusta into South Carolina and back to Georgia. Police had to shoot out the tires of his truck.
Brown received a six-year prison sentence and spent 15 months in a South Carolina prison before being paroled in February 1991. In 2003, the South Carolina parole board granted him a pardon for his crimes in that state.
His marriages to Velma Brown and Deidre Brown ended in divorce. Adrienne Brown died in 1996. A son died in 1973.
In 2002, he married his fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, one of his backup singers. The couple had a son, James Jr.
Brown is survived by at least four children.
Al Sharpton, who traveled with Brown in the 1970s and likened him to a father, said Brown took soul music and made it "world music."
"What James Brown was to music in terms of soul and hip-hop, rap, all of that, is what Bach was to classical music," Sharpton said yesterday. "This is a guy who literally changed the music industry. He put everybody on a different beat, a different style of music. He pioneered it."