James Brown, R.I.P.

The Godfather of Soul, James Joseph Brown, Jr., died overnight. He was 73 years young. Brown was initially hospitalized with pneumonia this weekend in Atlanta, and as recently as Sunday, his agent said he would be ready to perform at a scheduled concert the following Saturday. The cause of his death was uncertain.

James Brown performs inChina, February 2006, APJames Brown will be remembered as one of the greatest bandleaders, performers,and tastemakers in modern music. As the man himself once said: “Disco is James Brown, hip-hop is James Brown, rap is James Brown; you know what I’m saying?” Like Elvis, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Prince, redefined and influenced the role of the frontman with raw emotion and a frenetic stage presence.

Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles and their gospel-cum-R&B stylings were notable influences on James Brown, who started performing in 1955 with the guitarist Bobby Byrd and The Famous Flames.

Brown made his name in the mid-60’s, with the classic funk-soul hits, including “I Got You (I Feel Good),” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” James Brown in London, June 2006By the late ’60s and early ’70s, Brown struck a groove with his backup band, the JB’s, which included now-legendary musicians such as Bootsy Collins and Fred Wesley, recorded “Number One Soul Brother,” “Sex Machine,” “Funky Drummer,” and the social-rights-themed black power anthem, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” His brand of funk and swagger combined with an irresistible vibe produced a string of Billboard hits through the 60’s and early 70’s that helped build a bridge to funk, soul, disco, and modern R&B.

That “James Brown Sound” spread infectiously across the music spectrum, and directly influenced Miles Davis’ 1972 “On the Corner,” the music of the Jackson 5, The Rolling Stones, Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, Parliament, Etta James, Kool & the Gang, Cameo… and later, Outkast, the jazz/funk fusion sounds of Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Galactic, and Charlie Hunter, and today’s direct descendants of the Godfather, such as Breakestra, !!!, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. The list goes on and on.

James Brown had run-ins with the law, drug problems and health issues in recent decades, but his death came suddenly and early. His Web site lists tour dates that were scheduled to begin December 27 in Waterbury, CT and included gigs through August 2007.

The most recent interview I can find was last week, with Hour Magazine, previewing Brown’s planned January Canadian tour. Read it here. Read on for more intriguing interviews, etc…
Listen to JB’s “Christmas in Heaven” (MP3).

Have yourself a Soulful Christmas.

June 12, 2006: Rolling Stone interview with Jonathan Lethem — “Being James Brown.” Listen to audio. Read article.

2005: February 2, James Brown Interview with Terry Gross, NPR’s Fresh Air.

Finally 1115.org is hosting a fun JB tribute mixtape.

TUESDAY COVERAGE: LA Times: An Appreciation: by legendary music critic Robert Hilburn.

CBS 2 LA: There will be a Candlelight Vigil at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Leimert Park.

Ny Daily News: James Brown’s Final Moments:

“He was having pain before, but then the pain went away and he told me, ‘I’m going away tonight,’ ” said Charles Bobbit, Brown’s personal manager and longtime friend.

“I didn’t believe him,” he said, adding that a short time later, Brown sighed quietly three times, closed his eyes and died.

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cross-posted at Pop + Politics

3 Replies to “James Brown, R.I.P.”

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  2. Here is an excerpt from Billboard Magazine in the days following the riots that broke out in the USA after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

    Hail, James Brown
    Billboard Magazine Editorial
    April 27, 1968
    Amid the looting and rioting in Washington., Brown came to the people and told a live television audience, “Get off the streets. Go home. Nothing can be gained by looting and burning, only sorrow and misery.” A few hours later, those who were not at home to see Brown make an appeal, were at home watching the continuous rebroadcast of Brown’s plea. Washington and the rioters withdrew into their homes taking the advice of James Brown, who is not a politician but a singer. Brown went to Washington at his own expense just as he went to Boston and other riot torn cities…

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