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Lest We Forget

Posted on December 25, 2006

James Brown

The Godfather of Soul

1933-2006

The self proclaimed Godfather of Soul, James Brown, died on Christmas Day, 2006. He was 73 years old. Brown had been hospitalized with pneumonia at Emory Crawford Long Hospital on Sunday, December 24 and died around 1:45 a.m. Monday, December 25.

James Brown was born in 1933 in Barnwell, South Carolina. (However some music historians give a much earlier date of birth – 1928.) At the age of four he was given over to the care of relatives. He grew up on the streets of Augusta, Georgia. By the eighth grade he was serving time in reform school for breaking into cars. During his incarceration Brown met up with Bobby Byrd. Byrd invited Brown to join his group, the Gospel Starlighters.

The Gospel Starlighters eventually changed their name to the Famous Flames. With the name change came a change in music style as the switched to hard R&B. Little Richard’s manager saw James Brown and the Fabulous Flames perform and recommended them to Syd Nathan, who owned King Records. In January 1956, James Brown and the Fabulous Flames were the latest members of King Records, and four months later “Please, Please, Please” was in the R&B Top Ten. That song, and his incomparable stage shows, propelled James Brown to stardom.

His hit list begins in the 1950s and ran for decades. Just a few of his hits are “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”, “Say It Out Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year”.

He won a Grammy award for lifetime achievement in 1992, as well as Grammys in 1965 for “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (best R&B recording) and for “Living In America” in 1987 (best R&B vocal performance, male). He was one of the first performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, along with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and other founding fathers.

Brown’s private life was just as wild as his stage shows, with numerous run-ins with the law. In 1988 he was sentenced to six years behind bars after an incident in which he threatened two policemen with a gun, then attempted to run them over in his car while under the influence of the drug angel dust. He was released in March 1991 and put on parole until October 1993. Further brushes with the law ensued in 1995 when he was arrested and charged with beating up his wife, Adrienne, at their home in Aiken, South Carolina, and in 1998 when he was charged with possession of cannabis and unlawful use of a firearm. In 2003 the South Carolina parole board granted Brown a pardon for his crimes in that state.

His over-the-top stage shows led to a number of nicknames The Godfather of Soul, The Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness, Soul Brother No. 1, Mr. Dynamite. No matter what name he went by, he was sure to deliver.

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