James Brown died on December 25, 2006, after a week long battle with pneumonia at the age of 73 years old.
Born James Joe Brown Jr. on May 3, 1933, in a one-room shack in the woods of Barnwell, South Carolina, a few miles east of the Georgia border.
His parents split when he was very young, and at the age of 4, Brown was sent to Augusta, Georgia, to live with his Aunt
Honey, the madam of a brothel. Dubt as the “Godfather of Soul,” his unique vocal and musical style influenced many artists.
Brown was also known for his turbulent personal life, as well as his social activism, both in his song writing (“America is My Home,” “Black and Proud”) and advocating the benefits of education to schoolchildren.
Dismissed from school at the age of 12 for “insufficient clothing,” Brown turned to working his various odd jobs full-time. As an escape from the harsh reality of growing up black in the rural South during the Great Depression, Brown turned to religion and to music.
He sang in the church choir, where he developed his powerful and uniquely emotive voice.
In 1956, the Famous Flames recorded a demo tape of the song “Please, Please, Please” and played it for Ralph Bass, a talent scout for King Records.
Bass was thoroughly impressed by the song, and especially by Brown’s passionate and soulful crooning.
He offered the group a record contract, and within months “Please, Please, Please” had reached No. 6 on the R&B charts.
Brown joined Byrd’s group, which highlighted under two names, as an a cappella gospel group called the Gospel Starlighters, and an R&B band known as the Avons.
Brown had allegedly joined the band after one of the group’s members, Troy Collins, was killed.
Along with Brown and Byrd, the group consisted of Sylvester Keels, Doyle Oglesby, Fred Pulliam, Nash Knox and Nafloyd Scott.
Influenced by R&B groups such as Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, The Orioles and Billy Ward and his Dominoes, the group changed its name, first to the Toccoa Band, and then to the Flames.
Nafloyd’s brother Baroy later joined the group on bass guitar and Brown, Byrd and Keels switched lead positions and instruments, often playing drums and piano.
Johnny Terry later joined while Pulliam and Oglesby had long left.
In October 1958, Brown released the ballad, “Try Me”, which hit number-one on the R&B chart in the beginning of 1959, becoming the first of seventeen chart-topping R&B hits.
Shortly afterwards, Brown recruited his first band, led by J. C. Davis and reunited with Bobby Byrd, who joined a revived Famous Flames lineup that included Eugene “Baby” Lloyd Stallworth and Bobby Bennett, with Johnny Terry sometimes coming in as the “fifth Flame”.
Brown, The Flames, and his entire band debuted at the Apollo Theater on April 24, 1959, opening for Little Willie John.
Federal Records issued two albums credited to Brown and the Famous Flames.
By 1960, Brown began multi-tasking in the recording studio involving himself, the Famous Flames and his band, sometimes named the James Brown Orchestra or the James Brown Band.
On June 10, 1991 James Brown and a star-filled line up, performed before an audience at Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theater before a live Pay Per View at home audience.
James Brown: Living in America – Live! was the brainchild of Indiana Producer Danny Hubbard. M.C. Hammer as well as Bell Biv Devoe, the Boys, En Vogue, C+C Music Factory, Quincy Jones, Sherman Hemsley and Keenen Ivory Wayans.
Ice-T, Tone Loc and Kool Moe Dee performed paying homage to Brown.
This was Brown’s first public performance since his parole from the South Carolina prison system in February.
He served 2 1/2 years of two concurrent six-year sentences for aggravated assault and other felonies.