'Godfather of Soul' James Brown dies

By Matthew Bigg
Monday, December 25, 2006; 2:15 PM

ATLANTA (Reuters) - James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul" whose frenetic singing style and bold rhythms brought funk into the mainstream and influenced a new generation of black music, died on Christmas morning at age 73.

Brown died at 1:45 a.m. (0645 GMT) on Monday at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta after being admitted on Saturday for severe pneumonia, his manager, Frank Copsidas, said.

The singer had been in good health but went to a dentist late last week who recommended he immediately see a doctor. The decision was then taken to cancel two shows, Copsidas told Reuters.

"But he was all geared up to get back to work and play New Year's Eve in (New York's) Times Square," he said of the singer who styled himself "the hardest working man in show business." "He's been doing his best shows in the last 30 years."

One of America's great showmen and band leaders, Brown created a revolutionary sound that mixed funky rhythms and staccato horns behind his own often explosive vocals.

Hip hop and rap artists revered him and extensively used his beats as the backdrop to their own music.

"He's the godfather of hip hop and rap, the father of funk and he passed on the title of 'Godson of Soul' to (singer) Usher at the Grammys of two years ago," Copsidas said, adding Brown would likely be buried in Augusta, Georgia.

Brown emerged from a boyhood of extreme poverty and petty crime in Augusta to become one of the biggest record-sellers in rhythm and blues and later achieved crossover success.

He began his music career in jail as a juvenile offender and went back behind bars in 1988 for drug, weapons and vehicular charges after a high-speed car chase through Georgia and South Carolina which ended with police shooting out the tires of his truck. He left prison in 1991.

He was chosen to be a member of President Reagan's Council Against Drugs but was arrested several times in the mid-1980s and 90s and charged with drug and weapons possession.

"Soul is all the hard knocks, all the punishment the black man has had ... all the unfulfilled dreams that must come true," he once said.


Brown had more than 119 charting singles and recorded over 50 albums, was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and received a Grammys lifetime achievement award in 1992.

Big hits included "Please, Please, Please," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)" "Get Up (I feel like being a Sex Machine)" and "It's a Man's World."

Brown, also known as "Mr. Dynamite," would dance himself into a controlled frenzy as part of his stage show and typically changed suits a dozen times.

He once said he aimed to wear out his audience and "give people more than what they came for -- make them tired."

Brown's hit "Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" became an anthem for the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s but many fans criticized his decision to perform the song at Richard Nixon's inaugural in 1969.

Brown also built a successful business empire with a string of radio stations and a production company. He even played a manic preacher in the hit movie "The Blues Brothers."

Every record he made during 1960-77 reached the top 100.

His 1985 monster hit "Living in America," featured in the movie "Rocky IV," brought him a new generation of fans and his first Grammy.

In his trademark routine, 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 30-40 minutes and sent fans delirious.

(Additional reporting by Steve James)

© 2006 Reuters