James Joseph Brown, alias James Brown ou The Godfather of Soul, est un chanteur et musicien américain. Il est né le 3 mai 1933 à Barnwell (Caroline du Sud), et est mort le 25 décembre 2006, la date de Noël à Atlanta (Géorgie). Initiateur du funk, il a eu une très grande influence sur la soul, le rhythm and blues, le gospel. Il était aussi renommé pour ses performances scéniques.
James Joseph Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006), commonly referred to as « The Godfather of Soul » and « The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, » was an American entertainer recognized as one of the most influential figures in 20th century popular music. He was renowned for his shouting vocals, feverish dancing and unique rhythmic style.
Il existe une polémique autour de la date de naissance de James Brown. Bien qu’il prétende être né en 1933 à Barnwell (Caroline du sud), certains pensent qu’il serait né en réalité en 1928. Il aurait menti sur son âge par coquetterie. Quoi qu’il en soit, ses parents déménagent peu de temps après sa naissance, à Augusta (Géorgie).
La famille étant pauvre, le jeune James les aide en ramassant du coton chez les propriétaires environnants ou en cirant les chaussures dans le centre-ville. À cette même époque il commence à se produire dans les salles de danse de la région d’Augusta, mais il tombe petit à petit dans la délinquance. À 16 ans, il commet une attaque à main armée pour laquelle il est condamné dans un centre de détention juvénile. Trois ans plus tard, sa peine est allégée et il est relâché à la condition de ne pas retourner à Augusta et de trouver un emploi.
Lors d’un séjour en prison, il rencontre un autre chanteur, Bobby Byrd, et intègre son groupe de rhythm and blues Avon, dont le style évolue et qui sera rapidement renommé The Famous Flames puis James Brown with The Famous Flames. Le groupe se produit principalement dans le sud des États-Unis puis connaît le succès en 1956 avec le hit « Please, Please, Please » qui s’écoulera à 1 million d’exemplaires.
Malgré ce premier single à grand succès, les neuf qui suivirent furent tous des échecs et le producteur du groupe était prêt à rompre leur contrat… ce qui n’arriva pas puisque le single suivant, Try Me (1958), se plaça directement numéro 1 des titres R&B. Ce nouveau hit fut suivi d’autres succès, I’ll Go Crazy (1959) et Bewildered (1960).
Night Train (1961) est considéré aujourd’hui comme le premier album caractéristique de James Brown, avec un son instrumental, un rythme très présent et une rapidité qui marqua profondément dès sa sortie. La majorité des chansons du groupe depuis les débuts étant écrites ou co-écrites par James et son charisme surpassant tout, il s’imposa naturellement au point que les autres membres du groupe devinrent simples accompagnateurs du chanteur.
Alors que la plupart des succès du début de carrière de James Brown dans les États du Sud et dans les TopTen sont des titres rhythm’n & blues, lui-même et les Flames ne rencontraient pas la notoriété nationale avant la parution du disque en public Live At Apollo (spectacle réalisé en autoproduction en 1963). Brown poursuit ce succès avec une série de 45 tours qui, comme le travail d’Alen Toussaint, pose les bases du style Funk. La parution en 1964 de Out of sight ainsi que Night train ont servi de fondation au nouveau son de James Brown. Ces arrangements bruts et sans fioritures, les cuivres et la batterie occupant le centre du mix stéréo, et le chant de Brown ajoutant encore a la pulsation rythmique de l’ensemble.
Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag et I Got You (I Feel Good), tous deux sortis en 1965, furent des numéros 1 dans les classements R&B, demeurant les meilleures ventes dans les magasins noirs pour tout un mois, devenant par la même les premiers Top 10 de sa carrière. Chacun de ces deux titres est considéré de nos jours comme des titres phares et représente le plus important travail de la seconde période de sa discographie.
Brown aime faire des ajustements créatifs dans ses chansons pour plus de succès. Il a notamment accéléré le tempo de Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag afin de le rendre plus intense et commercial. « Cold Sweat » (1967) fut considéré comme une démarcation au niveau des paroles et un potentiel de succès plus élevé. Les critiques musicales y voyant un point d’orgue de la musique des années 60. Mélangé avec ses fameux titres rythmés de la décennie, il faut également compter avec les ballades telles que It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World (1965), ainsi que quelques titres assez Broadway.
JB employa des musiciens et des arrangeurs issus du jazz, mais en tant que leader et auteur, il privilégia la simplicité du rythme RnB à la complexité et la précision du jazz. Le groupe inclut le trompettiste Lewis Hamlin, le saxophoniste Alfred « Pee Wee » Ellis, le guitariste Jimmy Nolen (qui imposa des riffs simples pour chaque chanson) et le saxophoniste Maceo Parker.
D’autres formations temporaires ont inclus le chanteur Bobby Byrd, le batteur John « Jobo » Starks, Clyde Stubblefield, Melvin Parker (frère de Maceo), le saxophoniste St. Clair Pinckney, le trombone Fred Wesley, et le guitariste Alphonso Kellum.
À la fin des années 60, Brown redéfinit encore son style avec I Got the Feelin, Licking Stick-Licking Stick (1968) et Funky Drummer (1969). Dans ces titres, il abandonne le chant traditionnel pour une approche plus rythmique calquée sur la musique (donc très rarement mélodique).
Régulièrement apparaissent des parties parlées, directement au public, à la façon des rappeurs (avant l’heure). Il introduit aussi beaucoup de ruptures de rythmes et de breaks, il déstructure.
Ses chansons se politisent aussi, critiquent la société, revendiquent, les meilleurs exemples étant Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) (1968) et I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door I’ll Get It Myself) (1970).
Ce nouveau style, le Funk, influence beaucoup d’artistes comme Sly and The Family Stone, The Temptations, toute la Motown, jusqu’aux nouvelles générations, dont Michael Jackson ou Prince. James Brown est aussi l’artiste le plus samplé, que ce soit par des DJ ou d’autres artistes.
En 1970, la majorité des membres du groupe de James Brown l’ont quitté pour de meilleures opportunités. Il crée donc un nouveau groupe avec Bobby Byrd incluant le bassiste Bootsy Collins, le guitariste Catfish Collins, le tromboniste Fred Wesley. Ce nouveau groupe fut baptisé The JB’s et fit ses armes avec le titre « Get Up (Sex Machine) ».
Dans le désir de rester, Brown achète des stations de radio et crée son propre label chez Polydor, People, dans lequel il produira aussi certains de ses amis (dont Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, Myra Barnes, et Hank Ballard). Il s’est beaucoup investi dans les albums qu’il a produits, si bien qu’on reconnaît systématiquement son style derrière cette musique.
Ses productions personnelles à cette époque résument les innovations musicales des 20 années précédentes ; c’est l’époque de The Payback (1973), Papa Don’t Take No Mess (1974), Funky President (1975), Get Up Offa That Thing (1976),… En 1973 il signe aussi la bande originale du film blaxploitation Black Caesar.
Miles Davis et d’autres musiciens de jazz citent alors James Brown comme une influence majeure sur leurs styles.
À la fin des années 70, Mr Dynamite a déjà définitivement assis son statut de star. Son groupe se sépare encore, chacun ayant ses propres ambitions (comme Bootsy Collins).
C’est alors l’avènement du disco, et le chanteur, qui avait anticipé le mouvement y participe un peu (dès 1976 certains titres sonnent disco).
À partir de cette période, il est beaucoup moins prolifique et actif. Notons toutefois ce fabuleux concert à l’Apollo en 1983 durant lequel James Brown invite sur scène son « successeur » Michael Jackson qui faisait partie des spectateurs. Jackson réalise alors des pas de danse rapides et précis plus proches du style de Brown que du sien, le futur roi de la pop effectuera tout de même son célèbre pas de danse le Moonwalk. Le public, lui est conquis.
Il adopte un style musical plus grand public, il obtient un rôle de prêtre déjanté dans le film The Blues Brothers et il interprète la bande originale de Rocky IV avec le titre Living in America (1985). Il collabore aussi avec des groupes hip hop (Static en 1988). Il enregistre aussi en duo avec le rappeur Afrika Bambaataa, Unity en 1984. Selon Afrika Bambaataa, fondateur de la Zulu Nation, James Brown aurait à l’époque voulu se rapprocher du mouvement hip-hop, mais Afrika Bambaataa a voulu l’écarter un peu en considérant qu’il lui a ainsi permis de « rester une star du rock ».
A partir de la fin des années 80, malgré un réel retour en haut des charts, the godfather of soul est beaucoup moins prolifique et se fait surtout remarquer pour ses problèmes judiciaires.
En 1988, il est arrêté pour excès de vitesse puis emprisonné pour détention d’armes et consommation de PCP. Il est condamné à 6 ans de prison (peine commuée en 3 ans, il sort en 1991).
Jusqu’à sa mort, il alterne entre périodes de désintoxication, arrestations pour possession de drogue, et autres arrestations pour violences conjugales… Mais aussi périodes où il continue à enregistrer et à se produire à travers le monde.
En 2005, il chante en duo sur une chanson avec les Black Eyed Peas sur leur dernier album Monkey Business intitulée They don’t want music. On reconnaît bien son style jazz rétro mélangé au rythme plus moderne des B.E.P.
Le 23 décembre 2006, James Brown, malade, s’est rendu avec quelques heures de retard à un rendez-vous chez son dentiste à Atlanta (Géorgie) pour une implantation dentaire. Durant cette visite, le dentiste de James Brown s’est aperçu que le chanteur semblait « en mauvaise santé et très fatigué ». Plutôt que de réaliser l’implantation dentaire, le dentiste a conseillé à James Brown de consulter un médecin concernant son état de santé.
Le dimanche 24 décembre, il est admis à l’Emory Crawford Long Hospital d’Atlanta où les médecins diagnostiquent une pneumonie. Selon Charles Bobbit, manager et ami personnel du chanteur depuis de longues années, James Brown souffrait de sévères quintes de toux depuis qu’il était revenu d’un voyage en Europe en novembre 2006.
Bien que James Brown ait dû annuler des concerts imminents à Waterbury (Connecticut) et Englewood (New Jersey), le chanteur espérait que les médecins le laisseraient quitter l’hôpital à temps pour des concerts prévus pour le passage à l’année 2007. En effet, il était prévu qu’il chante au Count Basie Theatre (New Jersey) et au club de blues de B.B. King à New York. Il devait aussi chanter une chanson en direct sur la chaîne de télévision CNN. Au lieu de cela, Brown est resté hospitalisé et son état de santé s’est fortement dégradé tout au long de la journée.
Le 25 décembre 2006, James Brown décède à 1h45 (heure locale) d’une insuffisance cardiaque congestive, à l’âge de 73 ans, causée par une complication de sa pneumonie. Selon Charles Bobbit, Brown aurait murmuré les mots « Je m’en vais ce soir » avant de prendre trois longues respirations et de fermer les yeux.
De nombreux invités célèbres et des milliers de fans ont participé à deux commémorations publiques en hommage au chanteur disparu, à l’Apollo Theater à New York le 28 décembre 2006 et au James Brown Arena à Augusta (Géorgie) le 30 décembre 2006. Une cérémonie privée a aussi eu lieu le 29 décembre 2006 à laquelle ont participé la famille et les amis proches de James Brown. Des extraits de ses concerts ont été diffusés.
Parmi les célébrités présentes se trouvaient entre autres Joe Frazier, Dick Gregory, MC Hammer, Jesse Jackson, Michael Jackson, Don King et Paul McCartney.
Le groupe de musiciens ayant accompagné James Brown durant sa carrière, The Soul Generals, ont joué quelques unes de ses chansons les plus célèbres.
James Brown ne fut enterré que le 10 mars 2007, à Beech Island, en Caroline du Sud dans une crypte familiale sous la maison d’une de ses filles, Deanna Brown Thomas. Selon la famille, le corps du chanteur n’y reposerait que temporairement car un mausolée public avec musée (à la manière de Graceland pour Elvis Presley) est en cours de construction à Atlanta.
As a prolific singer, songwriter, bandleader, and record producer, Brown was a pivotal force in the evolution of gospel and rhythm and blues into soul and funk. He left his mark on numerous other musical genres, including rock, jazz, disco, dance and electronic music, reggae and hip hop. Brown’s music also left its mark on the rhythms of African popular music, such as afrobeat, jùjú and mbalax, and provided a template for go-go music.
Brown began his professional music career in 1953 and rose to fame during the late 1950s and early 1960s on the strength of his thrilling live performances and string of smash hits. In spite of various personal problems and setbacks, he continued to score hits in every decade through to the 1980s. In addition to his acclaim in music, Brown was a presence in American political affairs during the 1960s and 1970s, noted especially for his activism on behalf of fellow African Americans and the poor.
During the early 1980s, Brown’s music helped to shape the rhythms of early hip-hop music, with many groups looping or sampling his funk grooves and turning them into what became hip hop classics and the foundations of this music genre.
Brown was recognized by a plethora of (mostly self-bestowed) titles, including Soul Brother Number One, Sex Machine, Mr. Dynamite, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Minister of The New New Super Heavy Funk, Mr. Please Please Please, The Boss, and the best-known, the Godfather of Soul.
James Brown was born as the only child of Joseph (« Joe ») Gardner and Susie Brown (née Susie Behlings) in the small town of Barnwell, South Carolina in the Jim Crow South during the Depression era. Although Brown was to be named after his father, his name was reversed mistakenly on the birth certificate. Because of this mix-up during the birth registration, Brown’s name instead became James Joseph Brown, Jr. As a young child, Brown was known to his family as Junior, and he was also known as Little Junior when he later lived with his aunt and cousin, since his cousin’s nickname was also Junior.
Brown and his family lived in extreme poverty. When Brown was 4 years old, his parents separated after his mother decided to leave his father for another man. After his mother left the family, Brown continued to live with his father and his live-in girlfriends until he was 6 years old. After that time, Brown and his father moved to Augusta, Georgia, and his father sent him to live with an aunt who ran a house of prostitution. Even though Brown lived with relatives, he spent long stretches of time on his own, hanging out on the streets and hustling to get by. Brown managed to stay in school until he dropped out in the 7th grade.
During his childhood, Brown earned money by picking cotton, racking pool balls, shining shoes, sweeping out stores, washing cars and dishes and singing in talent contests. Brown also performed buck dances for change to entertain troops from Camp Gordon during the start of World War II as their convoys traveled over a canal bridge near his aunt’s house. Between earning money from these adventures, Brown taught himself to play a harmonica given to him by his father, and he learned to play some guitar from Tampa Red (who was « dating » one of the girls from his aunt’s house), in addition to learning to play piano and drums from others. Brown was inspired to become an entertainer after watching Louis Jordan, a popular jazz and R&B performer during the 1940s, and His Tympany Five in a short film performing « Caldonia ».
As an adult, Brown legally changed his name to remove the « Jr. » designation. In his spare time, Brown variously spent time practicing his skills in Augusta-area halls and committing petty crimes. At the age of sixteen, he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to a juvenile detention center upstate in Toccoa in 1948.
Brown, who was by then nicknamed « Music Box », formed a gospel quartet while he was incarcerated at the detention center. The group made their own instruments for prisons show, which included a paper-and-comb « harmonica, » a « drum set » made of lard tins and a « bass » made of a broomstick and washtub. Brown’s quartet performed for the local prison crowd and performed shows for other prisons in the vicinity.
While Brown was in reform school, he became acquainted with Bobby Byrd, who first saw Brown in a prison performance as Byrd watched and admired Brown’s ability to sing and perform. Byrd’s family helped Brown secure an early release after serving only three years of his sentence on the condition that Brown would try to get a job and not return to Augusta or Richmond County. After brief stints as a boxer and baseball pitcher in semi-professional baseball (a career move ended by a leg injury), Brown turned his energy toward music.
James Brown’s career spanned over five decades, and his sound and beat profoundly influenced the development of many different musical genres. Brown’s music and vocal style changed over the course of his career, evolving from a style tinged with blues and gospel to an uptempo « Africanized » musical style. Brown performed in concerts, first making his rounds across the « chitlin’ circuit, » and then across the country and later around the world, along with appearing in shows on television and in movies. Although he contributed much to the music world through his hitmaking, Brown held the record as the artist who charted the most singles on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever hitting number one on that chart.
In 1955, Brown and Bobby Byrd’s sister Sarah performed in a group called « The Gospel Starlighters ». Eventually, Brown joined Bobby Byrd’s vocal group, the Avons, and Byrd turned the group’s sound towards secular rhythm and blues. After the group’s name was changed to The Flames, Brown and Byrd’s group toured the Southern « chitlin’ circuit », and the group eventually signed a deal with the Cincinnati, Ohio-based label Federal Records, a sister label of King Records.
The group’s first recording was the single « Please, Please, Please » (1956). The single was a #5 R&B hit, selling over a million copies. Nine subsequent singles released by The Flames failed to live up to the success of their debut, and group was in danger of being dropped by King Records.
Brown’s early recordings were fairly straightforward gospel-inspired R&B compositions, heavily influenced by the work of contemporary musicians such as Ray Charles and Little Richard. Richard’s relations with Brown were particularly significant in Brown’s development as a musician and showman. Brown once called Richard his idol, and credited Richard’s saxophone-studded mid-1950s road band, The Upsetters, with being the first group to put the funk in the rock and roll beat. When Richard left pop music in 1957 to become a preacher, Brown filled out Richard’s remaining tour dates in his place. Several former members of Little Richard’s backup band joined Brown’s group as a consequence of Richard’s exit from the pop music scene.
Brown’s group returned to the charts to stay in 1958 with the #1 R&B hit « Try Me ». This hit record was the best-selling R&B single of the year, becoming the first of 17 chart-topping R&B singles by Brown over the next two decades. By the time « Try Me » was released on record, the group’s billing was changed to James Brown and The Famous Flames. « The Famous Flames » was a vocal group, not a backing band contrary to popular belief.
In 1959, Brown and The Famous Flames moved from the Federal Records subsidiary to King Records, the parent label. Brown began to have recurring conflicts with King Records president Syd Nathan over repertoire and other matters. In one notable instance, Brown recorded the 1960 Top Ten R&B hit « (Do the) Mashed Potatoes » on Dade Records, owned by Henry Stone, under the pseudonym « Nat Kendrick & The Swans » because Nathan refused to allow him to record it for King.
Brown scored on the charts in the early 1960s with recordings such as his 1962 cover of « Night Train ». While Brown’s early singles were major hits across the southern United States and then regular R&B Top Ten hits, he and the Famous Flames were not successful nationally until his self-financed live show was captured on the 1963 LP Live at the Apollo. Brown financed the recording of the album himself, and it was released on King Records over the objections of label owner Syd Nathan, who saw no commercial potential in a live album containing no new songs. Defying Nathan’s expectations, the album stayed on the pop charts for fourteen months, peaking at #2. In addition, Brown recorded a hit version of the ballad « Prisoner of Love » in 1963 and founded (under King auspices) the fledgling Try Me Records, Brown’s first attempt at running a record label.
Brown followed the success of Live at the Apollo with a string of singles that, along with the work of Allen Toussaint in New Orleans, essentially defined the foundation of funk music. Driven by the success of Live at the Apollo and the failure of King Records to expand record promotion beyond the « black » market, James Brown and fellow Famous Flame Bobby Byrd formed a production company, Fair Deal, to promote sales of Brown’s record releases to white audiences. In this arrangement, Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records, was used as a vehicle to distribute Brown’s music. Smash released his 1964 hit « Out of Sight », which reached #24 on the pop charts and pointed the way to his later funk hits. Its release also triggered a legal battle between Smash and King that resulted in a one year ban on the release of Brown’s vocal recordings.
During the mid-1960s, two of Brown’s signature tunes « Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag » and « I Got You (I Feel Good) », both from 1965, were his first Top 10 pop hits, as well as major #1 R&B hits, with each remaining the top-selling singles in black venues for over a month. In 1966, Brown’s « Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag » won the Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording (an award last given in 1968). Brown’s national profile was boosted further that year by appearances in the movie Ski Party and the concert film The T.A.M.I. Show, in which he and The Famous Flames (Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett and « Baby Lloyd » Stallworth) upstaged The Rolling Stones. In his concert repertoire and on record, Brown mingled his innovative rhythmic essays with Broadway show tunes and ballads, such as his hit « It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World » (1965).
As the 1960s came to a close, Brown continued to refine the new funk idiom. Brown’s 1967 #1 R&B hit, « Cold Sweat », sometimes cited as the first true funk song, was the first of his recordings to contain a drum break and the first that featured a harmony that was reduced to a single chord change. The instrumental arrangements on tracks such as « Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose » and « Licking Stick-Licking Stick » (both recorded in 1968) and « Funky Drummer » (recorded in 1969) featured a more developed version of Brown’s mid-1960s style, with the horn section, guitars, bass and drums meshed together in intricate rhythmic patterns based on multiple interlocking riffs. Changes in Brown’s style that started with « Cold Sweat » also established the musical foundation for Brown’s later hits, such as « I Got The Feelin' » (1968) and « Mother Popcorn » (1969). By this time Brown’s vocals frequently took the form of a kind of rhythmic declamation, not quite sung but not quite spoken, that only intermittently featured traces of pitch or melody. This would become a major influence on the techniques of rapping, which would come to maturity along with hip hop music in the coming decades.
In November 1967 James Brown purchased radio station WGYW in Knoxville, Tennessee for a reported $75,000, according to the January 20, 1968 Record World magazine. The call letters were changed to WJBE reflecting his initials. WJBE began on January 15, 1968 and broadcast a Rhythm & Blues format. The station slogan was « WJBE 1430 Raw Soul ». At the time it was mentioned « Brown has also branched out into real estate and music publishing in recent months. »
Brown’s recordings influenced musicians across the industry, most notably Sly and his Family Stone, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s and soul shouters like Edwin Starr, Temptations David Ruffin, and Dennis Edwards. A then-prepubescent Michael Jackson took Brown’s shouts and dancing into the pop mainstream as the lead singer of Motown’s The Jackson 5. Those same tracks were later resurrected by countless hip-hop musicians from the 1970s onward. As a result, James Brown remains to this day the world’s most sampled recording artist, with « Funky Drummer » itself becoming the most sampled individual piece of music.
Brown’s band during this period employed musicians and arrangers who had come up through the jazz tradition. He was noted for his ability as a bandleader and songwriter to blend the simplicity and drive of R&B with the rhythmic complexity and precision of jazz. Trumpeter Lewis Hamlin and saxophonist/keyboardist Alfred « Pee Wee » Ellis (the successor to previous bandleader Nat Jones) led the band. Guitarist Jimmy Nolen provided percussive, deceptively simple riffs for each song, and Maceo Parker’s prominent saxophone solos provided a focal point for many performances. Other members of Brown’s band included stalwart singer and sideman Bobby Byrd, drummers John « Jabo » Starks, Clyde Stubblefield and Melvin Parker (Maceo’s brother), saxophonist St. Clair Pinckney, trombonist Fred Wesley, guitarist Alphonso « Country » Kellum and bassist Bernard Odum.
During this period, Brown’s music empire also expanded along with his influence on the music scene. As Brown’s music empire grew, his desire for financial and artistic independence grew as well. Brown bought radio stations during the late 1960s, including radio station WRDW in Augusta, Georgia where he shined shoes as a boy. Brown also branched out to make several recordings with musicians outside his own band. He recorded Gettin’ Down To It (1969) and Soul on Top (1970), two albums consisting mostly of romantic ballads and jazz standards, with the Dee Felice Trio and the Louie Bellson Orchestra respectively. He recorded a number of tracks with the Dapps, a white Cincinnati bar band, including the hit « I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me) ». He also released three albums of Christmas music with his own band.
By 1970, most members of James Brown’s classic 1960s band had quit his act for other opportunities, and The Famous Flames singing group had disbanded, with original member Bobby Byrd the only one remaining with Brown. Brown and Byrd employed a new band that included future funk greats, such as bassist Bootsy Collins, Collins’ guitarist brother Phelps « Catfish » Collins and trombonist and musical director Fred Wesley. This new backing band was dubbed « The J.B.’s », and the band made its debut on Brown’s 1970 single « Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine ». Although The J.B.’s went through several lineup changes, with the first change occurring in 1971, the band remained Brown’s most familiar backing band.
In 1971, Brown began recording for Polydor Records. Many of his sidemen and supporting players, such as Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, Vicki Anderson and Hank Ballard, released records on the People label, an imprint founded by Brown that was purchased by Polydor as part of Brown’s new contract. The recordings on the People label, almost all of which were produced by Brown himself, exemplified his « house style ». Songs such as « I Know You Got Soul » by Bobby Byrd, « Think (About It) » by Lyn Collins and « Doing It to Death » by Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s were considered as much a part of Brown’s recorded legacy as the recordings released under his own name.
In 1973, Brown provided the score for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar. In 1974, he toured Africa and performed in Zaire as part of the buildup to the Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Admirers of Brown’s music, including Miles Davis and other jazz musicians, began to cite Brown as a major influence on their own styles. However, Brown, like others who were influenced by his music, also « borrowed » from other musicians. His 1976 single « Hot » (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved) » (R&B #31) borrowed the main riff from « Fame » by David Bowie, not the other way around as was often believed. The riff was provided to « Fame » co-writers John Lennon and Bowie by guitarist Carlos Alomar.
Brown’s Polydor recordings during the 1970s exemplified his innovations from the previous twenty years. Compositions such as « The Payback » (1973), « Papa Don’t Take No Mess », « Stoned to the Bone », and « Funky President (People It’s Bad) » (1974), and « Get Up Offa That Thing » (1976) were among his most noted recordings during this time.
By the mid-1970s Brown’s star-status was on the wane, and key musicians in his band such as Fred Wesley left for other opportunities. The onslaught of the disco movement caught Brown off guard as it superseded his raw style of funk music on the dance floor. His 1976 albums Get Up Offa That Thing and Bodyheat were Brown’s first flirtations with disco rhythms and production techniques. While the albums Mutha’s Nature (1977) and Jam 1980s (1978) did not generate chart hits, Brown’s 1979 LP The Original Disco Man was a notable late addition to his oeuvre. This album featured the song « It’s Too Funky in Here, » which was his last top R&B hit of the decade. Like the rest of songs on the The Original Disco Man LP, « It’s Too Funky in Here » was not produced by Brown himself, but produced instead by Brad Shapiro.
Brown’s contract with Polydor expired in 1981, and his recording and touring schedule was somewhat reduced. Despite these events, Brown experienced something of a resurgence during the 1980s, effectively crossing over to a broader, more mainstream audience. He appeared in the feature films The Blues Brothers, Doctor Detroit and Rocky IV, as well as guest starring in the Miami Vice episode « Missing Hours » (1988). He also recorded Gravity, a modestly popular crossover album released on his new host label Scotti Bros., and the top 10 hit 1985 single « Living in America, » which was featured prominently in the Rocky IV film and soundtrack. In 1987, Brown won the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for « Living in America. » Acknowledging his influence on modern hip-hop and R&B music, Brown collaborated with hip-hop artist Afrika Bambaataa on the single « Unity. »
In 1988, Brown worked with the production team Full Force on the hip-hop influenced album I’m Real, which spawned a #5 R&B hit single, « Static. » Meanwhile, the drum break from the second version of the original 1969 hit « Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose » (the recording included on the compilation album In the Jungle Groove) became so popular at hip hop dance parties (especially for breakdance) during the late 1970s and early 1980s that hip hop founding father Kurtis Blow called the song « the national anthem of hip hop. »
After a stint in prison during the late 1980s, Brown released the album Love Overdue, with the new single « Move On. » Brown also released the 1991 four-CD box set Star Time, which included music spanning his four-decade career at that time. Nearly all of his earlier LPs were re-released on CD, often with additional tracks and commentary by experts on Brown’s music. In 1993, James Brown released the album Universal James, which spawned the singles « Can’t Get Any Harder, » « How Long » and « Georgia-Lina. » In 1995, the live album Live At The Apollo 1995 was released, featuring the new studio track « Respect Me, » which was released as a single that same year. Brown followed up this single with the megamix « Hooked on Brown » that was released as a single in 1996. Brown’s later LP releases during this time included the 1998 studio album I’m Back that featured the single « Funk On Ah Roll, » and the 2002 album The Next Step that featured the single « Killing is Out, School is In. » In 2003, Brown participated in the PBS American Masters television documentary James Brown: Soul Survivor, which was directed by Jeremy Marre.
Although Brown had various run-ins with the law, he continued to perform and record regularly, and he also made appearances in television shows and films, such as Blues Brothers 2000, and sporting events, such as his 2000 appearance at the World Championship Wrestling pay-per-view event SuperBrawl X. In Brown’s appearance at the SuperBrawl X event, he danced alongside wrestler Ernest « The Cat » Miller, whose character was based on Brown. Brown was featured in Tony Scott’s 2001 short film, Beat the Devil, alongside Clive Owen, Gary Oldman, Danny Trejo and Marilyn Manson. Brown also made a cameo appearance in the 2002 Jackie Chan film The Tuxedo, in which Chan was required to finish Brown’s act after Brown was accidentally knocked out by Chan.
On the concert scene, Brown appeared at Edinburgh 50,000 – The Final Push, the final Live 8 concert on July 6, 2005, where he performed a duet with British pop star Will Young on « Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag ». He also performed a duet with another British pop star, Joss Stone, a week earlier on the United Kingdom chat show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Before his death, Brown was scheduled to perform a duet with singer Annie Lennox on the song « Vengeance » for her new album Venus, scheduled for release in early 2007. In 2006, Brown continued his « Seven Decades Of Funk World Tour, » his last concert tour where he performed all over the world. His last shows were greeted with positive reviews, and one of his final concert appearances at the Irish Oxegen festival in Punchestown in 2006 was performed for a record crowd of 80,000 people. Brown’s last televised appearance was at his induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame in November 2006.
On December 23, 2006, James Brown, in ill health, showed up at his dentist’s office in Atlanta, Georgia several hours later than his appointment for dental implant work. During that visit, Brown’s dentist observed that Brown looked « very bad … weak and dazed. » Instead of performing the dental work, the dentist advised Brown to see a doctor right away about his medical condition.
Brown checked in at the Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia on December 24, 2006 for a medical evaluation of his condition, and he was admitted to the hospital for observation and treatment. According to Charles Bobbit, Brown’s longtime personal manager and friend, Brown had been sick and suffering with a noisy cough since he returned from a November trip to Europe. Bobbit also added that it was characteristic of Brown to never tell or complain to anyone that he was sick, and that Brown frequently performed during illness. Although Brown had to cancel upcoming shows in Waterbury, Connecticut and Englewood, New Jersey, Brown was confident that the doctor would discharge him from the hospital in time to perform the New Year’s Eve shows. For the New Year’s celebrations, Brown was scheduled to perform at the Count Basie Theatre in New Jersey and at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York, in addition to performing a song live on CNN for the Anderson Cooper New Year’s Eve special. Instead, Brown remained hospitalized, and his medical condition worsened throughout that day.
On December 25, 2006, Brown died at approximately 1:45 a.m. (06:45 UTC) from congestive heart failure resulting from complications of pneumonia, with his agent Frank Copsidas and his friend Charles Bobbit at his bedside. According to Bobbit, Brown uttered « I’m going away tonight, » and then Brown took three, long quiet breaths and closed his eyes.
After Brown’s death on Christmas day, Brown’s relatives and friends, a host of celebrities and thousands of fans attended public memorial services at the Apollo Theater in New York on December 28, 2006 and at the James Brown Arena on December 30, 2006 in Augusta, Georgia. A separate, private memorial service was also held in North Augusta, South Carolina on December 29, 2006, which was attended by Brown’s family and close friends. Celebrities who attended Brown’s public and/or private memorial services included Joe Frazier, Dick Gregory, MC Hammer, Jesse Jackson, Michael Jackson, and Don King, among others. All of the public and private memorial services were officiated by Rev. Al Sharpton.
After the public and private memorial services in late December 2006, James Brown’s body remained in his casket for a time in a temperature-controlled room at his estate. Brown’s casket was later moved to an undisclosed location, while his children and Tomi Rae Hynie became embroiled in disputes about Brown’s final resting place and matters related to probating his will. More than ten weeks after Brown’s death and the public and private memorial services, Brown’s children and Hynie decided on a temporary burial site for James Brown.
Brown was buried on March 10, 2007 in a crypt at the home of Deanna Brown Thomas, one of Brown’s daughters who also held a private ceremony for the temporary burial. The private ceremony for the temporary burial, officiated by Al Sharpton, was attended by Brown’s family and a host of friends. According to Brown’s family, Brown’s body will remain buried at the temporary site while a public mausoleum is built for him and a decision has been made for Brown’s final resting place. To turn Brown’s estate into a visitor attraction, Brown’s family plans to consult with the family of Elvis Presley for guidance about converting the estate into an attraction similar to Graceland.
Dallas, Brown’s long time attorney and one of the trustees for Brown’s estate, did not attend the private service for the temporary burial. He expressed his disapproval and disappointment with the temporary burial arrangement with the comment « Mr. Brown’s not deserving of anyone’s backyard. » According to Dallas, the trustees for Brown’s estate « had made arrangements for Brown to be laid to rest at no cost at a ‘very prominent memorial garden in Augusta.' »
* Live at the Apollo (1963) (#24)
* In the Jungle Groove (1986) (#330)
* Star Time (1991) (#79)
* 20 All-Time Greatest Hits! (1991) (#414)
* Get On the Good Foot (1972)
* The Payback (1974)
* Hell (1974)
* « Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag » (1965) (#72)
* « I Got You (I Feel Good) » (1965) (#78)
* « It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World » (1966) (#123)
* « Please, Please, Please » (1956) (#142)
* « Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud » (1968) (#305)
* « Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine » (1970) (#326)
* The T.A.M.I. Show (1964) (documentary)
* Ski Party (1965)
* The Phynx (1970)
* The Blues Brothers (1980)
* Doctor Detroit (1983)
* Rocky IV (1985)
* When We Were Kings (1996) (documentary)
* Soulmates (1997)
* Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
* Holy Man (1998)
* Undercover Brother (2002)
* The Tuxedo (2002)
* The Hire: Beat The Devil (2002) (short subject)
* Paper Chasers (2003) (documentary)
* Sid Bernstein Presents… (2005) (documentary)
* Glastonbury (2006) (documentary)
* Life on the Road with Mr. and Mrs. Brown (2007) (documentary; awaiting release)
In addition to his long career in music, Brown also co-authored books about his life. He co-wrote the first book, James Brown, the Godfather of Soul with Bruce Tucker, and his second book, I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul, with Marc Eliot.