December 25, 2006


James Brown, the ’Godfather of Soul,’ dies in Atlanta hospital at 73 (Associated Press, December 25, 2006)

James Brown, the dynamic, pompadoured “Godfather of Soul,” whose rasping vocals and revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco as well, died early Monday, his agent said. He was 73. [...]

Along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and a handful of others, Brown was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years. At least one generation idolized him, and sometimes openly copied him. His rapid-footed dancing inspired Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson among others. Songs such as David Bowie’s “Fame,” Prince’s “Kiss,” George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song” were clearly based on Brown’s rhythms and vocal style.

If Brown’s claim to the invention of soul can be challenged by fans of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, then his rights to the genres of rap, disco and funk are beyond question. He was to rhythm and dance music what Dylan was to lyrics: the unchallenged popular innovator.

“James presented obviously the best grooves,” rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy once told The Associated Press. “To this day, there has been no one near as funky. No one’s coming even close.”

His hit singles include such classics as “Out of Sight,” “(Get Up I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Say It Loud - I’m Black and I’m Proud,” a landmark 1968 statement of racial pride.

“I clearly remember we were calling ourselves colored, and after the song, we were calling ourselves black,” Brown said in a 2003 Associated Press interview. “The song showed even people to that day that lyrics and music and a song can change society.” [...]

From the 1950s, when Brown had his first R&B hit, “Please, Please, Please” in 1956, through the mid-1970s, Brown went on a frenzy of cross-country tours, concerts and new songs. He earned the nickname “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” and often tried to prove it to his fans, said Jay Ross, his lawyer of 15 years.

Brown would routinely lose two or three pounds each time he performed and kept his furious concert schedule in his later years even as he fought prostate cancer, Ross said.

“He’d always give it his all to give his fans the type of show they expected,” he said.

Back in the day, promoters would put together shows with an entire lineup of top acts and each would try to outdo the other--known as "cutting." No one would follow James Brown because they knew they couldn't top him.

-Soul star James Brown dies at 73 (BBC, 12/25/06)
-James Brown Top 10 Singles (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, December 25, 2006)

James Brown hit the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 or Billboard Top R&B Singles in each of four decades...

James Brown, the ‘Godfather of Soul,’ Dies at 73 (JON PARELES, 12/26/06, NY Times)
Through the years, Mr. Brown did not only call himself “the hardest working man in show business.” He also went by “Mr. Dynamite,” “Soul Brother No. 1,” “the Minister of Super Heavy Funk” and “the Godfather of Soul,” and he was all of those and more.

His music was sweaty and complex, disciplined and wild, lusty and socially conscious. Beyond his dozens of hits, Mr. Brown forged an entire musical idiom that is now a foundation of pop worldwide.

“I taught them everything they know, but not everything I know,” he wrote in an autobiography.

The funk Mr. Brown introduced in his 1965 hit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” was both deeply rooted in Africa and thoroughly American. Songs like “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Cold Sweat,” “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and “Hot Pants” found the percussive side of every instrument and meshed sharply syncopated patterns into kinetic polyrhythms that made people dance.

Mr. Brown’s innovations reverberated through the soul and rhythm-and-blues of the 1970s and the hip-hop of the next three decades. The beat of a 1970 instrumental “Funky Drummer” may well be the most widely sampled rhythm in hip-hop.

Mr. Brown’s stage moves — the spins, the quick shuffles, the knee-drops, the splits — were imitated by performers who tried to match his stamina, from Mick Jagger to Michael Jackson, and were admired by the many more who could not. Mr. Brown was a political force, especially during the 1960s; his 1968 song “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” changed America’s racial vocabulary. He was never politically predictable; in 1972 he endorsed the re-election of Richard M. Nixon.

Mr. Brown led a turbulent life, and served prison time as both a teenager and an adult. He was a stern taskmaster who fined his band members for missed notes or imperfect shoeshines. He was an entrepreneur who, at the end of the 1960s, owned his own publishing company, three radio stations and a Learjet (which he would later sell to pay back taxes). And he performed constantly: as many as 51 weeks a year in his prime.

Say it loud: He gave music some new moves (Robert Hilburn, December 26, 2006, LA Times)
FOR all the impact of such towering figures as Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, no one influenced black music more than James Brown because no one mirrored black culture more than the man behind such hits as "Please, Please, Please," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)."

You hear his percolating style in Prince's funky guitar licks, see his spectacular physicality in Michael Jackson's dance steps and feel his spirit and self-affirmation in every explosive hip-hop record.

Long before he was showered with celebrated (and eminently fitting) titles such as "the Godfather of Soul" and "the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business," Brown was briefly thought of by some as the black Elvis, which was mostly silly — except in one profound way.

If Presley was the artist most often cited by leading white musicians as an influence — and I found that to be true in the '60s and '70s — Brown was the name I most often heard when asking African American musicians about who inspired them.

Hardworking Godfather of Soul (Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb, 12/26/06, Washington Post)
Over the years, Brown sent audiences into states of frenzy when he dramatized his first R&B hit, "Please, Please, Please" (1956), on stage. As a finale, Brown would walk off stage, body bent with fatigue. He would stop, drop to one knee and wait for a band member to drape a cape around his shoulders. As he was being led away, Brown would toss the cape off, run to the microphone and start begging again, "Baby, please don't go, don't go. . . . I love you so." The audience would go wild as band members wailed on their horns.

Jonathan Lethem, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, described watching Brown entertain as a "feast of adoration and astonishment."

"For to see James Brown dance and sing, to see him lead his mighty band with the merest glances and tiny flickers of signal from his hands; to see him offer himself to his audience to be adored and enraptured and ravished; to watch him tremble and suffer as he tears his screams and moans of lust, glory and regret from his sweat-drenched body . . . is not to see: It is to behold," Lethem wrote.

Brown changed the course of African American music in the 1960s and 1970s, said Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West in their book, "The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country" (2000).

"Mr. Brown, as he likes to be known, rapped and crooned before his time, used vibrant horn, raunchy rock and roll guitar, and driving bass overlaid with a grunting, familiar voice like the sound of a moving train," Gates and West wrote. "His persona prefigured the flamboyance of the disco years, of techno-funk humor, of the era of his royal highness known as Prince."

Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger aspired to dance like Brown; Elvis Presley was said to have studied Brown's choreography on film.

His signature one-three beat can be heard on music from Ice-T, the Fat Boys, Public Enemy and many others who used the digital technique known as sampling to incorporate Brown's lyrics and rhythms into their own works.

His musical legacy includes more than 900 songs, among them: "I Got You ( I Feel Good)" (1965), "Cold Sweat" (1967), "Sex Machine (1970), "Hot Pants" (1971) and "The Payback" (1973). His "Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud" (1969) became an anthem during the civil rights movement.

Brown's live recording at the famed Apollo Theater in October 1962 was considered a pivotal event in his career and was declared one of the greatest 100 moments in rock music in the 1960s by Entertainment Weekly. The recording, which was released three months later, "marked the beginning of Brown's transformation from minor R&B star into soul's greatest bandleader," the magazine said in 1999. The live recording also created a template for Sly Stone and George Clinton to follow.

In 1965, Brown's "Pappa's Got a Brand New Bag" won a Grammy for best R&B recording, and in 1987, his "Living in America" single, which is heard in the movie "Rocky IV," received one for best male R&B vocal performance. In 1992, he won a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.

He was one of the initial artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986, along with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino and Buddy Holly. In 2003, he was honored by the John F. Kennedy Center of Performing Arts.

In a statement yesterday, President Bush called Brown "an American original" and noted that his fans came from all walks of life. "For half a century, the innovative talent of the 'Godfather of Soul' enriched our culture and influenced generations of musicians," the president said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 25, 2006 10:32 AM

When I was in law school, our law school paper used to run an April Fools' page every year. The best gag we ever had was a mock announcement of a constitutional law symposium called "The Jurisprudence of James Brown," featuring a paper entitled "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, but can it be Searched? the Fourth Amendment Under the Rhenquist Court."

Rest in peace, Godfather of Soul.

Posted by: Mike Morley at December 25, 2006 4:32 PM