Brown, James

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Brown, James

James Brown, 1933–2006, African-American rhythm-and-blues singer known as the "godfather of soul," b. Barnwell, S.C., as James Joe Brown, Jr. Abandoned by his parents, he left school in the seventh grade and turned to petty crime. After three years in reform school, Brown joined (1952) the Gospel Starlighters, which soon became the Famous Flames, the group with which he recorded his first hit, Please, Please, Please (1956). With his soulful, gravel-voiced, gospel-inflected singing style and spectacular stage presence—often screaming (on key) and dancing acrobatically—Brown was a true innovator of rhythm and blues and funk, recording such hit singles as I Got You (I Feel Good) (1965), It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World (1966), the Black Pride anthem Say It Loud (1968), and many albums, e.g., Live at the Apollo (1963) and The Payback (1974). He again hit the top of the charts with his Grammy-winning album Living in America (1985). Jailed (1988) on drug and gun charges, he was released in 1991 and resumed an active singing and recording career. Brown's vocal style has had a great influence on musicians from Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, and hip-hop artists. The recipient of many music awards, in 1986 Brown was one of the original inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

See his The Godfather of Soul (1986) and I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul (2005); biography by RJ Smith (2012).

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