A tribute to the Undisputed ‘Godfather of Soul’
Very few people from the music world can be classed as a true legend but James Joseph Brown happens to be one of them. So you can imagine the shock when the world heard that the undisputed ‘Godfather of Soul’ passed, aged 73. Brown was an extraordinary musician, singer-songwriter, cultural icon and, of course, a world class showman with his dance moves and stage presence. But more importantly, he will be remembered for helping to shape the musical sound of ‘60s Soul, ‘70s Funk, ‘80s Rap and beyond.
Born in South Carolina, USA in 1933, James moved to Georgia after being abandoned by his immediate family. Life was tough, especially as a Black person and, as a youngster, he spent his time picking cotton, dancing for spare change and shoe shining. His later brush with the law landed him in reform school which is where he met Bobby Byrd, a friend who helped shape the rest of his life. James joined Byrd's group, ‘The Gospel Starlighters’ which, eventually became ‘The Famous Flames’ making the successful single, ‘Please Please Please’ in 1956. But James’ claim to fame landed on his lap when he self-financed the ‘Live at the Apollo’ recording in 1963 that propelled his profile into the spotlight.
Since then Brown has had no les than seventeen number one hits in the USA. Classic cuts started from the ‘60s with the soulful signature ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’ and ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ which, picked up a Grammy for ‘Best Rhythm & Blues Recording’. And then there was the one-chord charge of ‘Cold Sweat’ that many people considered to be the first true Funk recording. With the creation of James’ loyal band, the JBs in the ‘70s (with Fred Wesley and Bootsy Collins), the Funk sound was pushed to a new level with ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being Like A) Sex Machine’ in 1970. Other ‘70s classics include ‘Funky President’ and ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’.
Rap from the ‘80s also had the ‘James Brown’ input with his drum breaks heavily being sampled by the emerging Hip-hop nation. More notable was his collaboration with Hip-hop innovator Afrika Bambaataa on the single ‘Unity’. The hits continued right up to the present day; his latter years dedicated to extensive touring and the odd film cameo. His appearance in ‘Rocky IV’ in the ‘80s, accompanied with his chart topping soundtrack single ‘Living In America’ and his cameo in ‘Undercover Brother’ (2002) are just two of the many films. Despite all the glitz and glamour as an entertainer, there was a social conscious side to our James. Songs like ‘Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud’, released shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr in 1968, fed into the socio-political movement of Black America. And, in 2002, the single ‘Killing Is Out, School Is In’ made a strong statement to the community at the time.
Brown’s personal life had also been full of drama off the stage but, despite this, he will always be remembered as one of the greatest and most hard-working artists in the game. His legacy continues today through film and TV, not to mention his profound influence on popular music across the globe which has constantly relived the Funk era. There are also the lifetime achievements he had won over the years, his charter member status of the ‘Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’ AND… a street named after him, ‘James Brown Boulevard’ in the States. Such accolades could only be given to a true star which, the late James Brown definitely was and will continue to be!