Long Live James Brown, Long Live His Memory

By Courtesy of CTV's Jill Macyshon and files from The Associated Press
Updated: December 27, 2006

CANADA—James Brown, the self-described “Godfather of Soul” and giant of 20th century American music, died early Christmas Day at the age of 73.

Brown’s agent Frank Copsidas said the singer was hospitalized with severe pneumonia on Sunday. Brown died around 1:45 a.m. ET on Monday of heart failure at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, Ga.

“He laid his head back, took a couple deep breaths and he was gone,” said Roosevelt Johnson, Brown’s personal assistant.

Copsidas said Charles Bobbit, a long-time friend, was by Brown’s side when he died.

“People already know his history, but I would like for them to know he was a man who preached love from the stage,” said Bobbit.

“His thing was ‘I never saw a person that I didn’t love.’ He was a true humanitarian who loved his country.”

On Friday, Brown was out giving Christmas presents to under-privileged children in his home town of Augusta, Ga..

He had been scheduled to perform New Year’s Eve in New York, and then a series of concerts across Canada.

James Joseph Brown, Jr. is widely considered one of the most seminal, influential figures in 20th century music.

“I thin with the passing of James Brown, you’re going to see people recognizing all the contributions that he made,” said DJ Red Robinson. “He’s the number-one R and B artists of all time. One-hundred and fourteen or 115 charted hits.”

Brown had a raspy, gospel-style voiced that, combined with a horn-section that punctuated his funky, frenetic rhythms, evolved into a distinct, revolutionary style of music.

He recorded more than 50 albums and had well over 100 songs that hit the charts, including “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “(Get Up I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and “Out of Sight.”

His “Live at the Apollo” album, recorded at the famous Harlem concert venue, is considered perhaps the best live recording of all time.

His classic “Say It Out Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” became a landmark statement of racial pride when it came out in 1968 — a year in which the Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated and African-American athletes raised “black power” salutes from the medal podium at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

King’s murder triggered riots.

“When Martin Luther King had been assassinated, James Brown was actually brought in to try and quell the riots,” said Phil Vassell of Word magazine. “I mean, that’s unheard-of for a musician to have that kind of influence over the population.”

“I clearly remember we were calling ourselves coloured, and after the song, we were calling ourselves black,” Brown told the Associated Press in an interview in 2003.

“The song showed even people to that day that lyrics and music and a song can change society.”

Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and won a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 1992.

Not only was he a prolific singer and songwriter, he was also a record producer, businessman and bandleader who is credited with influencing a new generation of African American music that reaches all the way to rap and hip-hop today.

“James presented obviously the best grooves,” rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy once told The Associated Press. “To this day, there has been no one near as funky. No one’s coming even close.”

Brown also left his mark on numerous other musical genres, including rock, jazz, reggae, disco, dance and electronic music.

And the pompadoured, flamboyant Brown also influenced many artists with his dancing. His often copied, never quite equalled, rapid-fire footwork inspired such artists as Michael Jackson, Prince and Mick Jagger.

Brown rose to success despite being born in abject poverty in Barnwell, South Carolina, in 1933. He was abandoned as a four-year-old to the care of relatives and friends and grew up on the streets of Augusta, Ga., in an “ill-repute area,” as he once called it.

“I wanted to be somebody,” Brown told AP.

He shot to stardom after Cincinnati’s King Records signed his group, the Gospel Starlighters, to a record deal in 1956 and four months later their hit “Please, Please, Please” was in the R&B top ten.

But later on in his career, Brown ran into troubles with the law. He was arrested several times in the 1980s and 1990s and was charged with drug and weapons possession.

His wife, Adrienne Brown, died in 1996 in Los Angeles at age 47 after she took the drug PCP and several prescription drugs while suffering from a bad heart.

More recently, Brown married his fourth wife, Tomi Raye Hynie, who was one of his backup singers. The couple had a son, James Jr.