James Joseph Brown, Jr. (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was an American recording artist and musician. One of the founding fathers of funk music and a major figure of 20th-century popular music and dance, he is often referred to as “The Godfather of Soul”. In a career that spanned six decades, Brown profoundly influenced the development of many different musical genres.
Born in Barnwell, South Carolina, Brown moved to Augusta, Georgia, to live with relatives at the age of five. After a stint in prison for robbery, Brown began his career as a gospel singer in Toccoa, Georgia. Joining an R&B vocal group called the Avons that later evolved to become The Famous Flames, Brown served as the group’s lead singer. Coming to national public attention with the late 1950s ballads “Please, Please, Please” and “Try Me”, Brown built a reputation as a tireless live performer with singing group The Famous Flames and his backing band, sometimes known as the James Brown Band or the James Brown Orchestra.
Brown’s success peaked in the 1960s with the live album, Live at the Apollo, and hit singles such as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “I Got You” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”. During the late 1960s, Brown moved from a continuum of blues and gospel-based forms and styles to a profoundly “Africanized” approach to music-making that influenced the development of funk music. By the early 1970s, Brown had fully established the funk sound after the formation of The J.B.’s with records such as “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and “The Payback”. Brown also became notable for songs of social commentary including the 1968 hit, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud”. Brown continued to perform and record for the duration of his life and died in 2006 from congestive heart failure and pneumonia.
Brown recorded seventeen number-one singles on the Billboard R&B charts. Brown also holds the record as the artist to have charted the most singles on the Billboard Hot 100 which did not reach number-one on that chart. Brown was honored by many institutions including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. In Joel Whitburn’s analysis of the Billboard R&B charts from 1942 to 2010, Hot R&B Songs, James Brown is ranked as number one in The Top 500 Artists. Brown is ranked seventh on the music magazine Rolling Stone’s list of its 100 greatest artists of all time.