In Memoriam: James Brown

National Urban League. The State of Black America, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

In Memoriam: James Brown


Known as the "Godfather of Soul," "Mr. Dynamite," and "Soul Brother Number One," James Brown was a singer, songwriter, and performer who, without question, greatly influenced 20th Century musical genres. Some rock critics have referred to him as the most important Black musician of the rock era.

Brown was born on May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, South Carolina, After his parents separated when he was four, he moved to Augusta, Georgia where he was taken in by his aunt. Growing up, he earned money picking cotton, shining shoes, and buck-dancing for soldiers. In the late 1940s, he was imprisoned for armed robbery. While in prison, he met his life-long friend Bobby Byrd.

Byrd invited Brown to join a gospel singing group; they eventually called themselves the Flames, and eventually changed their focus to R&B. They were signed to King Records and immediately had a hit with "Please Please Please" in 1956. By this time, the group had become known as James Brown & the Famous Flames. …

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