James Brown singer and songwriter has died today (December 25) at the age of 73 after being admitted to the Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta suffering with pneumonia.
His agent Frank Copsidas confirmed that he had died at 1.45am local time (6.45am UK time).
According to Copsidas the singer first became aware that he was seriously ill when he visited his dentist at the weekend.
“On Friday (December 22) he had his toy giveaway, which is his annual toy giveaway in Augusta, Georgia,” the agent told the BBC World Service. “On Saturday, he went to his dentist up in Atlanta, and his dentist told him something was wrong, and he sent him to a doctor immediately.”
The singer died with his long term friend Charles Bobbit at his bedside.
Brown was responsible for both key moments in soul music’s evolution: being at the birth of both R&B and funk, earning him the name “the Godfather Of Soul”.
Subsequently, his became one of the most sampled artists by a new generation of rappers and producers.
Brown was born in 1933 in Barnwell, South Carolina.
He endured a troubled childhood which saw the singer abandoned aged four and forced to grow-up with relatives on the streets of Augusta, Georgia.
With stints in reform school, the young Brown quickly learnt to how to get things done, later recalling “I wanted to be somebody”.
It was while he was in reform school that Brown met Bobby Byrd, an early influence who recruited the singer for his group Gospel Starlighters. They soon changed their name the Famous Flames, adopting a harder R&B style in the process.
Signed to King Records in January 1956, Brown and the band scored their first hit four months later with ‘Please, Please, Please’ reaching the R&B top ten.
That success was not immediately followed-up, however with Brown evolving more rhythm-led and improvised arrangements for his songs, the singer soon pulled ahead of the pack. In 1961 instrumental ’Night Train’ scored a number five R&B hit and showcased what would become known as the “James Brown Sound”.
Wider success followed with the release of ’Live At The Apollo’ in 1962. Recorded the Apollo Theater, Harlem, New York City without the approval of his label it is considered to be among the greatest live albums ever recorded.
By the mid-1960s, with the singer enjoying hits with the likes of ’ Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ and ’I Got You (I Feel Good)’ he became rich in a way that wouldn’t hit rock music until the 1970s, owning restaurants, radio stations and a private jet.
Not only did he personify the American Dream, he embraced it wholeheartedly encouraging black people to embrace ‘black capitalism’.
Crucially after Martin Luther King‘s assassination in 1968, his show in Boston – complete with pleas for calm – was broadcast across America. He was thanked by President Lyndon Johnson .
The late 1960s saw Brown evolve a more funkier sound, typified by the now heavily sampled ’Funky Drummer’, before he recruited new backing band The JBs for a series of tours and recordings in the 1970s.
Debuting the new band on his seminal track ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)’ in 1970, Brown and the group also played the now legendary gig in 1974 in Zaire during the build-up to the Rumble In The Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
However after this high, His music passed out of fashion as disco took over and his son Teddy was killed in a car accident.
Once again it was back to the circuit working as hard as possible that kept him going.
In the 1980s he was discovered by hip-hop artists and in doing so earned yet another title ‘The Most Sampled Man In Show Business’ after being sampled by – among others – Public Enemy, NWA, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Easy-E, Nas, Prince, De La Soul, Massive Attack, Beastie Boys and Sinead O’Connor (a long, although not exhaustive list of songs with a Funky Drummer sample ).
Personally though singer’s fortunes waned somewhat.
Brown was arrested in 1988 after entering a insurance office neighbouring his Augusta HQ carrying a shotgun while high on PCP.
The singer was arrested after a half hour car chase which saw police shoot out his tires, and he was given a six year prison sentence, although he was paroled in 1991 and was later pardoned in 2003.
The singer was also plagued with charges of drug and alcohol abuse, and was accused of hitting his third wife Adrienne, who died in 1996 after mixing PCP with prescription drugs.
Despite his troubles, Brown toured consistently, reaffirming his reputation as “the hardest working man in show business”.
Recent UK appearances included both the Glastonbury and T In The Park festivals proving he could mix it with the younger generation of bands, while he appeared in London in November at the BBC Electric Proms, playing the newly re-opened Roundhouse venue.
Brown was also inducted into the UK Music Hall Of Fame during that visit, though possibly his most impressive honour is in Augusta where the city changed the name of its 9th Street to James Brown Boulevard last year.
Brown is survived by his fourth wife Tomi Raye Hynie – one of his backing singers – whom he had a son with James Jr, now aged five. The singer also has two children by his first wife Velma Warren, and three more by his second Deidre Jenkins.
In a career that spanned five decades, there’s no-one who can equal Brown for his capacity for innovation and influence. Having brought R&B and funk to the world, his music is the bedrock for much of the finest rap and hip-hop records around . He was and shall remain the Godfather Of Soul.
Check out some of the video reminders of James Brown‘s brilliance below:
Sullivan Show Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag/I Feel Good
Being A) Sex Machine
Please leave your tributes and memories below.