The History of James Brown

Known as "The Godfather of Soul" and "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," James Brown's flying feet, dramatic choreography and raspy voice catapulted him to the top of the R&B charts over and over again. James Brown enjoyed a successful career in the music industry that spanned 50 years until his death in 2006 at the age of 73.

Born during the Great Depression on May 3, 1933, in South Carolina, James Brown, like most Americans, lived in poverty. Raised in Augusta, Georgia, James is reported to have picked cotton, shined shoes, boxed and danced on street corners to survive. Caught breaking into cars at the age of 16, James spent the next three years in reform school. After his release, he and a friend formed the Gospel Starlighters, which later became the Flames. James Brown and the Famous Flames recorded "Please Please Please" in 1955, hitting No. 5 on the charts.

The 1960s in the U.S. was a time of turbulence. Women's liberation, the Vietnam War, flag burning and the Civil Rights Movement were all part of the changing landscape of America. James Brown emerged as a leader and symbol of black unity and pride when his song "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud!" was released in 1968. The song held the No. 1 spot on the R&B charts for six weeks and was listed on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time at No. 305. He was one of the first performers to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

James Brown's music has been more heavily sampled by hip-hop artists than anyone else. The drum beats from "Funky Drummer" have been sampled by Tupac, Prince, Sinead O'Connor, Eric B. and Rakim, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and dozens of others. Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, M.C. Hammer, Usher and Prince have all openly acknowledged his influence on their choreography.

James Brown's first No. 1 hit, "Try Me," was released Oct. 1, 1958, and became the best-selling R&B single of the year, "It's a Man's World," "I Got You (and I Feel Good)," "I Got The Feeling," "Cold Sweat," "Sex Machine," "The Popcorn," "Hot Pants" and "Ain't It Funky Now" are among his other titles topping R&B charts over the next 20 years. Brown made his movie debut with a cameo appearance as the Rev. Cleophus James in the musical comedy "The Blues Brothers."

In December 1988, Brown was sentenced to prison for assaulting his wife as well as drug possession and failure to stop for a police officer. He was paroled in 1991 and later pardoned. The following year, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 34th annual Grammy Awards, and in 1993, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the fourth annual Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards. On Dec. 24, 2006, James Brown was admitted to Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, suffering from pneumonia and was pronounced dead at 1:45 a.m. on Christmas Day, ending an amazing man's journey.

Approved by Jesse Anderson