James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, passed away this Christmas morning. He was 73.
Brown was hospitalized with severe pneumonia yesterday (Dec 24) at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, GA. He was expected to recover enough to perform a scheduled show this coming Saturday.
Heaven gained another voice for the choir, however, when Brown passed away at 1:45 am this morning from undisclosed causes. His agent Frank Copsidas and longtime friend Charles Bobbit were by his side at the time of his death.
From his birth, life was never easy for James Joseph Brown. He was born into a poor small town South Carolina family in May 1933 and was given to relatives in Georgia when he was only 4 years old. A shady life of crime and poverty followed Brown throughout his childhood and at thirteen, he was sentenced to do time at the Alto Reform School in Georgia., for breaking into cars.
While there, he befriended Bobby Byrd, and when they both got out, Brown moved in with the Byrd family. He also joined Byrd's group, the Gospel Starlighters, which later became the Famous Flames.
With this group, Brown had his first R&B hit, "Please, Please, Please" in 1956 (credited to "James Brown with the Famous Flames") and never looked back. In the 1960s, Brown had a slew of hits, such as "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "It's a Man's World."
His hit "Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)," released in 1968, also became the anthem of the civil rights movement, speaking for a whole generation of his fans about racial pride.
He is credited with bringing funk into the mainstream with 70s hits like "Get Up (I feel like being a Sex Machine)" and in 1984, scored the one biggest hits of his career with "Living in America," featured in the movie Rocky IV, which garnered him his second Grammy.
In the late 80s and 90s, Brown ran afoul of the law several times, incurring jail time for charges of drug and alcohol abuse, spousal abuse and more. In 1988, he was sentenced to six years in prison for a multi-state high-speed police chase that resulted in drug, weapons and vehicular charges. He spent 15 months in a South Carolina prison and 10 more months in a work release program before being paroled in 1991.
Legal problems aside, Brown's musical accolades have been constant throughout his career: 119 charting singles, many in the Top 100; induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame (1986); a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys (1992); and recipient of Kennedy Center Honors (2003). He is also credited for being the inspiration for not only musical genres, such as dance and rap, but also other legendary performers, such as Prince and Michael Jackson.
Over his 50 year career, he had rightfully earned the nickname "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," for his constant touring and recording schedule. His performances were also legendary - full of high energy and theatrical moves such as his most famous routine where his stage crew would throw a cape over his back and he would leave, only to reappear seconds later on his knees, saying, "I can't go on" and other phrases. The routine would sometimes go on for 30 minutes and drive the crowd into a frenzy. It is reported that the singer would lose 2-3 pounds during each show.
In later years, he also ventured out into acting, with roles in movies such as The Blues Brothers, and more recently, a 2005 episode of the television series "Everybody Hates Chris." When not performing, he found time to build a successful business empire that included radio stations and his own production company. He even found time to contribute to the community, often performing charity work in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia.
In December 2004 Brown was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which was successfully treated with surgery. Two years later, he has passed away on December 25.
Brown is survived by his fourth wife, Tomi Raye Hynie and their son, James Jr. He also had two children by his first wife, Velma Warren, and three more by his second, Deidre Jenkins.
Our condolences go out to the family and friends of James Brown.
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