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On this date in 1933, James Brown was born. He was a Black singer, producer, and entertainer.
Born in Barnwell, S.C., Brown was raised in poverty 40 miles away in Augusta, GA; his heritage included the Native American Apache tribe. As a child, he picked cotton, danced for spare change, and shined shoes. At 16, he was caught shoplifting, convicted, and landed in reform school for three years. While there, he met Bobby Byrd, leader of a gospel group that performed at the prison. After his release, Brown tried his hand at semi-pro boxing and baseball. A career-ending leg injury inspired him to pursue music full-time.
In 1953, Brown joined Byrd’s group, the Gospel Starlighters. Soon they changed their focus to R&B and their name to the Famous Flames; Brown became the focal point of the act. Two years later, they recorded "Please Please Please" at the studio of WIBB radio in Macon, GA. In 1956, it reached #6 on the R&B charts.
Brown had his first #1 hit two years later, "Try Me." It was the best-selling R&B single of 1958. This was followed by "Night Train" (1962) and "Prisoner of Love" (1963). That same year he came out with the album, "James Brown's 'Live at the Apollo, Vol. 1.'" In 1965, Brown released "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)." That was followed by "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" (1966) and "Cold Sweat" (1967). In 1969, Brown released "Give It Up or Turn it Loose," "The Popcorn," and "Mother Popcorn." Brown released "Ain't It Funky Now (Part 1)" in 1970, and "Get Up I Feel Like Being Like a Sex..."
In 1971, Brown hit #15 with "Hot Pants." That same year, Brown signed with Polydor Records. One year later, his song "Get On the Good Foot" topped the R&B chart for a month and peaked at #18 in the pop Top Forty. Also, at this time, he began calling himself "the Godfather of Soul." In 1974, "The Payback," the most successful of his albums of the 1970s, was released. In 1980, Brown had an unforgettable cameo role in “The Blues Brothers.” In 1986, "Living in America," the theme song from Rocky IV, reached #4 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Later that year, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Brown’s life took a disappointing turn in 1988. He was sentenced to a six-year prison term after a year of arrests on various assault, drug possession, and vehicular charges. He was released on parole in 1991. One year later, Brown received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 34th annual Grammy Awards. In 1993, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards.
In 2006, Brown was hospitalized with pneumonia at Emory Crawford Long Hospital and died on Christmas Day that same year.
Heart & Soul
A Celebration of Black Music Style in America 1930-1975
by Merlis Davin Seay, Forward by Etta James
Copyright 2002, Billboard Books
Image: Getty Images