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James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul” was one of the most iconic figures of funk and soul music. Over the course of his lifetime, Brown left his mark as a singer, songwriter, dancer, and activist. Brown was born May 3, 1933 in Barnwell, South Carolina. His mother gave birth to him in a one room shack, and when his parents split, he was sent to live with his Aunt in Augusta, Georgia. His Aunt was the madam of a brothel, and Brown was forced to whatever work he could find due to his family’s extreme poverty.
When he was just 12, Brown was dismissed from school for not having proper clothing, and in his search for hope and comfort, he turned to religion and music. Despite turning to religion, Brown became involved in crime as a teenager and spent three years in prison for stealing a car. While serving his sentence, Brown met Bobby Byrd, and the two teamed up to form one of the most dynamic and productive musical partnerships in music history.
Brown joined Byrd’s group the Famous Flames in 1955, and in 1956 the group was offered a record deal by Ralph Bass to sign with King Records. The group went on the road opening for such legendary musicians as B.B. King and Ray Charles. Brown churned out a series of hits after his song “Try Me” reached No. 1 on the R&B charts and catapulted him towards fame.
Through the 1950’s and 60’s, Brown toured relentlessly performing five or six nights a week which earned him the title of “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Brown became known for his flashy showmanship, extravagant dance moves, and soulful crooning. The 1960s were filled with many of Brown’s most popular hits including “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
Brown became one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during its inception in 1986. He is also a member of the UK Music Hall of Fame. Brown received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Rolling Stone ranks him as No. 7 on the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.
Brown died December 25, 2006 at the age of 73. He left behind a legacy as the inventor of funk and the grandfather of hip hop. His influence is seen in a wide range of artists including Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, and Afrika Bambaataa.
Check out the following A&E biography to learn more about Brown’s life and career below: