James Jo Brown Jr. was born to Joe and Susie Brown on the third of May 1933, at Barnwell, South Carolina. James was just four years old when his mother abruptly abandoned the household.
His father needed to find employment, so he uprooted the rest of the family and settled them in Augusta, Georgia, with an aunt who ran a brothel. In his youth, Brown was exposed to the African American musical styles of jazz and rhythm and blues.
Circuses and other touring shows with a wide range of musical and dance performers have had an impact.
However, Brown’s difficult upbringing quickly drowned out his desire to pursue a career in music. By the time he was a teenager, Brown had already gravitated toward a life of crime.
“The Hardest-Working Man In Show Business”
After abandoning gospel in favor of the more commercially successful “doo-wop” genre in the mid-1950s, the Swanees became known as the Famous Flames.
Brown sang lead and percussion on their 1956 hit “Please, Please, Please,” which went on to sell a million copies as a single. Proto-funk dance classics like “(Do the) Mash Potato” were being produced by the band by 1960, when they had evolved into the James Brown Revue.
New York City’s Apollo Theater crowned Brown “King of Soul,” and he went on to have a string of hit songs, including “Papa’s Have a Brand Big Bag,” “I Have You (I Feeling Good),” “It is a Human Human The human World,” “Cold Sweat,” and “Funky Drummer.”
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Brown, by then among a select handful of powerful African Americans, toyed with the idea of joining the “Black Power” organization in the latter part of the 1960s in response to the more aggressive posture of many black activists at the time.
Still, the singer advocated nonviolence in his songs and was commended by President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) after a radio broadcast of his remarks prevented a racial disturbance.
Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978), the Vice President of the United States, praised him for his pro-education song “Don’t Become a Dropout.” Brown’s songs started to overtly express political beliefs, such as his insistence that African Americans choose their own economic fate.
The driving funk beat of Brown’s 1970 hit “(Get Up, I Feeling Like Like a) Sex Machine” included numerous young and talented musicians, including Bootsy Collins & his brother Phelps, the better known as “Catfish.”
Soon after the release of The Godfather, Brown signed to Polydor Records and became known as the “Godfather of Soul.”With subsequent singles like “Get on a Positive Foot,” “Talking Loud & Talking Nothing,” and “Soul Power,” he honed his strong funk style even more.
The commercial success of “blaxploitation” films in the 1970s inspired Brown to start composing film scores, and he went on to score films including Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off and Black Caesar.
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Death, Taxes, And Calamity
James Brown was one of the most famous musicians of all time, but he also had his fair share of legal troubles. In 1975, the IRS claimed he owed a total of $4.5 million for taxes for 1969 and 1970, and most of his other assets went down as a result.
After a grueling tour through Africa, his band broke up, and perhaps most tragically, his infant son Teddy was killed in a car crash. After a while, Brown’s wife up and went, taking their two kids with her.
By the late ’70s, the rise of disco had hampered the “Godfather of Soul’s” career. After making a cameo appearance as a minister in the blockbuster 1980 comedy picture The Blues Brothers, Brown’s fortunes began to turn around.
However, it wasn’t until the release of “Life in America,” a song from Rocky IV, that Brown really found success again. It had been thirteen years since his last million-selling song.
Brown renewed his contract with CBS Records after receiving induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Honor the previous year. The male R&B rendition of “Living in America” won him a Grammy.
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Brown has been fighting drug addiction the whole time. He was arrested on many offenses including assault, drug and weapon control, and resisting arrest in May of 1988. A six-year term in the Charleston State Park Correctional Institution in Columbia.