James Joseph Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was an American singer, songwriter, dancer, musician, record producer and bandleader. A progenitor of funk music and a major figure of 20th century music and dance, he is often referred to as the “Godfather of Soul” and “Soul Brother No. 1”. In a career that lasted over 50 years, he influenced the development of several music genres.
Brown began his career as a gospel singer in Toccoa, Georgia. He joined a rhythm and blues vocal group, the Gospel Starlighters (which later evolved into the Famous Flames) founded by Bobby Byrd, in which he was the lead singer. First coming to national public attention in the late 1950s as a member of the singing group The Famous Flames with the hit ballads “Please, Please, Please” and “Try Me”, Brown built a reputation as a tireless live performer with the Famous Flames and his backing band, sometimes known as the James Brown Band or the James Brown Orchestra. His 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 (I Feel Good)” 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”. He also became noted 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 until his death from pneumonia in 2006.