James Joseph Brown aka, ‘The Godfather of Soul’ or ‘Funk Soul Brotha’, was an African American born musician, producer, singer, songwriter, and dancer. With such an extensive list of skills, it is easy to see why James Brown may be one of the most influential artists in music ever. Known as a tireless and unique performer James was a force no one had ever seen in the music industry with a career that spanned about half a century. From his origins as a gospel singer in the 1950s to his R&B roots and his creation of the sound known as funk, James Brown’s role in “Africanizing”, music cannot go unnoticed.
Born in Barnswell, South Carolina, in 1933, James Brown was a child of the Great Depression. As a young black man in America during those times, it was almost evident James' childhood was troubled and harder than those of white American boys. Brown left school in the seventh grade due to being convicted of an armed robbery at age 16. A chance encounter with singer Bobby Byrd of The Famous Flames in a detention center proved a blessing to Brown’s career as he became a member of the Gospel R&B band after his release.
The group took their inspirations from the likes of Ray Charles and Little Richard, two African American artists that also did their part in shaping the world of music today. Brown’s dynamic and mesmerizing dance style soon meant he took front and center for the group and would carry The Famous Flames until the group disbanded in 1968. The group enjoyed numerous successes including their album, ‘Live At The Apollo’ becoming the first LP to sell a million copies and staying on top of the Billboard Pop Charts for a total of 66 weeks. James Brown would release some of his best work after the group disbanded.
Once the group broke off, Brown would continue as a dynamic stage presence that would drive his career into an unknown era. Breaking away from the mold of soul and R&B that Brown was so accustomed to, he began to use his talent to cultivate a new form of dance music called funk using his fast and rough singing combined with complex rhythms, bass grooves, and an aggressive drum style. Using his background in Gospel music the yelps and screams added an extra flavor to his sound that left a lasting imprint on black music.
Brown was also known for speaking on racial and musical barriers as he was a social activist. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., He released the civil rights funk anthem, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, in 1968 that became a call to arms for the Black Power Movement going around the United States during this period.
His music was one that left its lasting impression on many, especially other African American artists. From Prince to Michael Jackson and even Public Enemy and NAS, James Brown has been sampled and used as an inspiration towards the many African artists that have graced our speakers for decades.
The man James Brown has even said, “ Disco is James Brown, hip-hop is James Brown, rap is James Brown; you know what I’m saying? You hear all the rappers, 90 percent of their music is me.” And he is not wrong, while it may sound egotistical it is hard. Brown not only directly influenced genres such as modern R&B, soul, and funk, he indirectly influenced a wide range of artists and genres. The main message James Brown conveyed through his music was to never adhere to typical musical conventions and structure rather, follow the rhythm and groove of what you think sounds great. A true pioneer of music James Brown will go down as one of the best to do it independently. Rest in Peace legend.
Article written by: Hector Nilo