- © John Horsley
- © Jake Chessum
- © Nels Israelson
James Joseph Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was an American singer and dancer. The founding father of funk music and a major figure of 20th-century popular music and dance, he is often referred to as "The Godfather of Soul". In a career that spanned six decades, Brown influenced the development of several music genres.
Brown began his career as a gospel singer in Toccoa, Georgia. Joining an R&B vocal group called the Avons that later evolved to become The Flames, Brown served as the group's 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. Brown's 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". Brown also became notable 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 in 2006 from congestive heart failure.
Brown recorded 16 singles that peaked at number-one on the Billboard R&B charts. Brown also holds the record for the most singles listed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart which did not reach number-one. Brown has been honored by many institutions including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. In Joel Whitburn's analysis of the Billboard R&B charts from 1942 to 2010, James Brown is ranked as number one in The Top 500 Artists. Brown is ranked seventh on the music magazine Rolling Stone's list of its 100 greatest artists of all time. Rolling Stone has also cited Brown as the most sampled artist of all time.
James Joseph Brown was born on May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, South Carolina, to 16-year-old Susie (née Behling; 1917–2003) and 22-year-old Joseph "Joe" Gardner Brown (1911–1993), in a small wooden shack. Brown's name was supposed to have been Joseph James Brown, Jr.; however, his first and middle names were mistakenly reversed on his birth certificate. Brown later legally changed his name to remove the "Jr." designation. His parents were both black; in his autobiography, Brown stated that he also had Chinese and Native American ancestry. The Brown family lived in extreme poverty in Elko, South Carolina, which was an impoverished town at the time. They later relocated to Augusta, Georgia, when Brown was four or five. Brown's family first settled at one of his aunts' brothels and later moved into a house shared with another aunt. Brown's mother later left the family after a contentious marriage and moved to New York. Brown spent long stretches of time on his own, hanging out in the streets and hustling to get by. Brown managed to stay in school until sixth grade.
Brown began singing in talent shows as a young child, first appearing at Augusta's Lenox Theater in 1944, winning the show after singing the ballad "So Long". While in Augusta, Brown performed buck dances for change to entertain troops from Camp Gordon at the start of World War II as their convoys traveled over a canal bridge from near his aunt's home. Brown learned how to play piano, guitar and harmonica during this period. Brown became inspired to become an entertainer after seeing footage of Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five performing "Caldonia" in a short film. During his teen years, Brown briefly had a career as a boxer. At 16, Brown was convicted of robbery and was sent to a juvenile detention center in Toccoa. Brown formed a gospel quartet with four fellow cellmates, including Johnny Terry. Stories differ as to how Brown was eventually paroled, including a story that Bobby Byrd's family had helped to secure an early release, while another stated that Brown got his parole after a car and motor manufacturing company owner, S.C. Lawson, agreed to be a sponsor after Brown had promised to look for a job guaranteed for two years. Brown was paroled on June 14, 1952. Upon his release, Brown joined a gospel group and worked at several jobs, including the Lawson Motor Company and as a janitor at a local school. Brown and Bobby Byrd reportedly met following his release from prison and the two became friends.
Brown joined Byrd's group, which highlighted under two names, as an a cappella gospel group called the Gospel Starlighters, and an R&B band known as the Avons. Brown had allegedly joined the band after one of the group's members, Troy Collins, was killed. Along with Brown and Byrd, the group consisted of Sylvester Keels, Doyle Oglesby, Fred Pulliam, Nash Knox and Nafloyd Scott. Influenced by R&B groups such as Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, The Orioles and Billy Ward and his Dominoes, the group changed its name, first to the Toccoa Band, and then to the Flames. Nafloyd's brother Baroy later joined the group on bass guitar and Brown, Byrd and Keels switched lead positions and instruments, often playing drums and piano. Johnny Terry later joined while Pulliam and Oglesby had long left.
Berry Trimier became the group's initial manager booking them at parties near college campuses in the Georgia and South Carolina areas. The group had already gained a reputation for being a live act when they renamed themselves the "Famous Flames". By 1955, the group had contacted Little Richard, who was idolized by Brown, while performing in Macon. Richard convinced the group to get in contact with Richard's manager at the time, Clint Brantley, at his nightclub. Brantley agreed to manage them after seeing the group audition. Brantley then sent them to a local radio station to record a demo session, where they performed their own composition "Please, Please, Please", which was inspired when Little Richard wrote the words of the title on a napkin and Brown was determined to make a song out of it. The Famous Flames eventually signed with King Records' Federal subsidiary in Cincinnati, Ohio and issued a re-recorded version of "Please, Please, Please" in March 1956. The song became the group's first R&B hit, selling over a million copies. None of their follow-ups produced similar success. By 1957, Brown had replaced Clint Brantley as manager and hired Ben Bart, chief of Universal Attractions Agency. That year, the original Flames broke up after Bart changed the name of the group to "James Brown and The Famous Flames".
In October 1958, Brown released the ballad, "Try Me", which hit number-one on the R&B chart in the beginning of 1959, becoming the first of seventeen chart-topping R&B hits. Shortly afterwards, Brown recruited his first band, led by J. C. Davis and reunited with Bobby Byrd, who joined a revived Famous Flames lineup that included Eugene "Baby" Lloyd Stallworth and Bobby Bennett, with Johnny Terry sometimes coming in as the "fifth Flame". Brown,The Flames, and his entire band debuted at the Apollo Theater on April 24, 1959, opening for Little Willie John. Federal Records issued two albums credited to Brown and the Famous Flames. By 1960, Brown began multi-tasking in the recording studio involving himself, the Famous Flames and his band, sometimes named the James Brown Orchestra or the James Brown Band. That year, the band recorded the top ten R&B hit, "(Do the) Mashed Potatoes" on Dade Records, owned by Henry Stone, under the pseudonym "Nat Kendrick & The Swans", due to label issues. As a result of its success, King president Syd Nathan shifted Brown's contract from Federal to King. While under King, Brown, under the Famous Flames lineup, released the album, Think! and the following year, released two albums with the James Brown Band earning second billing. With the Famous Flames, Brown sung lead on several more hits including "I'll Go Crazy" and "Think", songs that hinted at his emerging style.
By 1962, Brown scored a hit with his band with their cover of the instrumental, "Night Train", becoming not only a top five R&B single but also Brown's first top 40 entry on the Billboard Hot 100. That same year, the ballads, "Lost Someone" and "Baby You're Right", the latter a Joe Tex composition, added to his repertoire and increased his reputation with R&B audiences. On October 24, 1962, Brown financed a live recording of a performance at the Apollo and convinced Syd Nathan to release the album, despite Nathan's beliefs that no one bought live albums due to the fact that Brown's singles were already bought and that live albums were usually bad sellers.
Live at the Apollo was released the following June and became an immediate hit, eventually reaching number two on the Top LPs chart and selling over a million copies, staying on the charts for 14 months. In 1963, Brown scored his first top 20 pop hit with his rendition of the standard, "Prisoner of Love". He also launched his first label, Try Me Records, which included recordings by the likes of Tammy Montgomery (later to be famous as Tammi Terrell), Johnny & Bill (Famous Flames associates Johnny Terry and Bill Hollings) and the Poets, which was another name used for Brown's backing band.
In 1964, seeking bigger commercial success, Brown and Bobby Byrd formed the production company, Fair Deal, linking the operation to the Mercury imprint, Smash Records. King Records, however, fought against this and was granted an injunction preventing Brown from releasing any recordings for the label. Prior to the injunction, Brown had released three vocal singles, including the blues-oriented hit, "Out of Sight", which further indicated the direction his music was going to take. Touring throughout the year, Brown and the Famous Flames grabbed more national attention after giving an explosive show-stopping performance on the live concert film, The T.A.M.I. Show. The Flames'dynanic gospel-tinged vocals, polished choreography and timing as well as Brown's energetic dance moves and high-octane singing upstaged the show from proposed closing act, The Rolling Stones. With a new deal with King, Brown released his composition, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", which became his first top ten pop hit and won Brown his first Grammy Award. Later in 1965, Brown issued "I Got You", which became his second single in a row to reach number-one on the R&B chart and top ten on the pop chart. Brown followed that up with the ballad, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" which confirmed his stance as a top-ranking performer, especially with R&B audiences from that point on.
By 1967, Brown's emerging sound had begun to be defined as funk music. That year, he released what some critics cited as the first true funk song, "Cold Sweat", which hit number-one on the R&B chart and became one of his first recordings to contain a drum break and also the first that featured a harmony that was reduced to a single chord. 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. Brown's style of funk in the late 1960s was based on interlocking syncopated parts: funky bass lines, drum patterns, and iconic guitar riffs. The main guitar ostinatos for "Ain't It Funky" and "Give It Up or Turn It Loose" (both 1969), are examples of Brown's refinement of New Orleans funk; irresistibly danceable riffs, stripped down to their rhythmic essence. On both recordings the tonal structure is bare bones. The pattern of attack-points is the emphasis, not the pattern of pitches. It's as if the guitar is an African drum, or idiophone. Alexander Stewart states that this popular feel was passed along from "New Orleans—through James Brown's music, to the popular music of the 1970s." 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.
"Bring it Up" has an Afro-Cuban guajeo-like structure. In fact, on a 1976 version, Cuban bongos are used. All three of these guitar riffs are based on an onbeat/offbeat structure. Stewart states: "This model, it should be noted, is different from a time line (such as clave and tresillo) in that it is not an exact pattern, but more of a loose organizing principle."
It was around this time as the musician's popularity increased that he acquired the nickname, "Soul Brother No. 1", after failing to win the title "King of Soul" from Solomon Burke during a Chicago gig two years prior. Brown's recordings during this period influenced musicians across the industry, most notably groups such as Sly and the Family Stone, Funkadelic, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Booker T. & the M.G.'s as well as vocalists such as Edwin Starr, David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards from The Temptations, and Michael Jackson, who, throughout his career, cited Brown as his ultimate idol.
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 Famous Flames singer and sideman Bobby Byrd, drummers John "Jabo" Starks, Clyde Stubblefield and Melvin Parker, saxophonist St. Clair Pinckney, trombonist Fred Wesley, guitarist Alphonso "Country" Kellum and bassist Bernard Odum.
In addition to a torrent of singles and studio albums, Brown's output during this period included two more successful live albums, Live at the Garden (1967) and Live at the Apollo, Volume II (1968), and a 1968 television special, James Brown: Man to Man. His music empire 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 WRDW in his native Augusta, where he shined shoes as a boy. 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". Brown also bought WEBB in Baltimore in 1970.
Brown branched out to make several recordings with musicians outside his own band. In an attempt to appeal to the older, more affluent, and predominantly white adult contemporary audience, Brown recorded Gettin' Down To It (1969) and Soul on Top (1970)--two albums consisting mostly of romantic ballads, jazz standards, and homologous reinterpretations of his earlier hits—with the Dee Felice Trio and the Louie Bellson Orchestra. In 1968, he recorded a number of funk-oriented tracks with The Dapps, a white Cincinnati band, including the hit "I Can't Stand Myself". He also released three albums of Christmas music with his own band.
In March 1970, most of Brown's mid-to-late 1960s road band walked out on him due to money disputes, a development augured by the prior disbandment of The Famous Flames singing group for the same reason in 1968. Brown and erstwhile Famous Flames singer Bobby Byrd (who chose to remain in the band during this tumultuous period) subsequently recruited several members of the Cincinnati-based The Pacemakers, which included Bootsy Collins and his brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins; augmented by the remaining members of the 1960s road band (including Fred Wesley, who rejoined Brown's outfit in December 1970) and other newer musicians, they would form the nucleus of The J.B.'s, Brown's new backing ensemble. Shortly following their first performance together, the band entered the studio to record the Brown-Byrd composition, "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine"; the song and other contemporaneous singles would further cement Brown's influence in the nascent genre of funk music. This iteration of the J.B.'s dissolved after a March 1971 European tour (documented on the 1991 archival release Love Power Peace) due to additional money disputes and Bootsy Collins' use of LSD; the Collins brothers would soon become integral members of Parliament-Funkadelic, while a new lineup of the J.B.'s coalesced around Wesley, St. Clair Pinckney, and drummer John Starks.
In 1971, Brown began recording for Polydor Records which also took over distribution of Brown's King Records catalog. Many of his sidemen and supporting players, including Andre Beeka, Fred Wesley & the J.B.'s, Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, Vicki Anderson and former rival 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" by Lyn Collins and "Doing It to Death" by Fred Wesley & the J.B.'s are considered as much a part of Brown's recorded legacy as the recordings released under his own name. That year, he also began touring African countries and was received well by audiences there. During the 1972 presidential election, James Brown openly proclaimed his support of Richard Nixon for reelection of the presidency over Democratic candidate George McGovern. The decision led to a boycott of his performances and, according to Brown, cost him a big portion of his black audience. As a result, Brown's record sales and concerts in the United States reached a lull in 1973 as he failed to land a number-one R&B single that year. Brown relied more on touring outside the United States where he continued to perform for sold-out crowds in cities such as London, Paris and Lausanne. That year, Brown also faced problems with the IRS for failure to pay back taxes, charging he hadn't paid upwards of $4.5 million, five years earlier, the IRS claimed he owed nearly $2 million.
In 1973, Brown provided the score for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar. He also recorded another soundtrack for the film, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off. Following the release of these soundtracks, Brown acquired a self-styled nickname, "The Godfather of Soul", which remains his most popular nickname. In 1974, he returned to the No. 1 spot on the R&B charts with "The Payback", with the parent album reaching the same spot on the album charts; he would reach No. 1 two more times in 1974 including "My Thang" and "Papa Don't Take No Mess". Later that year, he returned to Africa and performed in Kinshasa 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) used 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, who had briefly been a member of Brown's band in the late 1960s.
Brown's "Papa Don't Take No Mess" would be his final single to reach the No. 1 spot on the R&B charts and his final Top 40 pop single of the 1970s, though Brown continued to occasionally have Top 10 R&B recordings. Among his top ten R&B hits during this latter period included "Funky President" and "Get Up Offa That Thing", the latter song released in 1976 and aimed at musical rivals such as Barry White, The Ohio Players and K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Brown credited his then-second wife and two of their children as writers of the song to avoid concurrent tax problems with the IRS. Starting in October 1975, Brown produced, directed, and hosted Future Shock, an Atlanta-based television variety show which ran for three years.
Although his records were mainstays of the vanguard New York underground disco scene exemplified by DJs such as David Mancuso and Francis Grasso from 1969 onwards, Brown did not consciously yield to the trend until 1975's Sex Machine Today. By 1977, he was no longer a dominant force in R&B. After "Get Up Offa That Thing", thirteen of Brown's late 1970s recordings for Polydor failed to reach the Top 10 of the R&B chart, with only "Bodyheat" in 1976 and the disco-oriented "It's Too Funky in Here" in 1979 reaching the R&B Top 15 and the ballad "Kiss in '77" reaching the Top 20. After 1976's "Bodyheat", he also failed to appear on the Billboard Hot 100. As a result, Brown's concert attendance began dropping and reported disputes with the IRS caused Brown's empire to collapse. In addition, Brown's former band mates, including Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker and the Collins brothers, had found bigger success as members of George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic collective. The emergence of disco also stopped Brown's success on the R&B charts as its slicker commercial style had superseded his rawer funk productions.
By the release of 1979's The Original Disco Man, Brown was not providing much production or writing, leaving most of it to producer Brad Shapiro, resulting in the song "It's Too Funky in Here" becoming Brown's most successful single in this period. After two more albums failed to chart, Brown left Polydor in 1981. It was around this time that Brown changed the name of his band from the J.B.'s to the Soul Generals (or Soul G's). This band's name remained that way until his death. Despite a decline in record sales, Brown enjoyed something of a resurgence in this period starting with appearances in the feature films The Blues Brothers, Doctor Detroit and Rocky IV, as well as guest starring in the Miami Vice episode "Missing Hours" (1987). In 1984, Brown teamed with rap musician Afrika Bambaattaa on the song "Unity". A year later he signed with Scotti Brothers Records and issued the moderately successful album, Gravity, in 1986. It included Brown's final Top 10 pop hit, "Living in America", marking his first Top 40 entry since 1974 and his first Top 10 pop entry since 1968. Produced and written by Dan Hartman, it was also featured prominently on the Rocky IV film and soundtrack. Brown performed the song in the film at Apollo Creed's final fight, shot in the Ziegfeld Room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and was credited in the film as "The Godfather of Soul." 1986 also saw the publication of Brown's autobiography, James Brown: The Godfather of Soul, co-written with Bruce Tucker. In 1987, Brown won the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Living in America".
In 1988, Brown worked with the production team Full Force on the new jack swing-influenced album I'm Real. It spawned his final two Top 10 R&B hits, "I'm Real" and "Static", which peaked at No. 2 and No. 5, respectively, on the R&B charts. 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 his stint in prison during the late 1980s, Brown met Larry Fridie and Thomas Hart who produced the first James Brown biopic titled James Brown: The Man, the Message, the Music, released in 1992. James Brown returned with the album Love Over-Due in 1991. It included the single "(So Tired of Standing Still We Got to) Move On", which peaked at No. 48 on the R&B chart. His former record label Polydor also released the four-CD box set, Star Time, spanning Brown's career to date. Brown's release from prison also prompted his former record labels to reissue his albums on CD, featuring additional tracks and commentary by music critics and historians. That same year, Brown appeared on rapper MC Hammer's video for "Too Legit to Quit". Hammer had been noted, alongside Big Daddy Kane, for bringing Brown's unique stage shows and their own energetic dance moves to the hip-hop generation, with both Hammer and Kane listing Brown as their idol. Both musicians also sampled Brown's work, with Hammer having sampled the rhythms from "Super Bad" for his song, "Here Comes the Hammer", from his best-selling album, Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em. Before the year was over, Brown, who had immediately returned to work with his band following his release, organized a pay-per-view concert following a show at Los Angeles' Wiltern Theatre, that was well received.
On June 10, 1991 James Brown and a star-filled line up, performed before an audience at Los Angeles' Wiltern Theater before a live Pay Per View at home audience. James Brown: Living in America - Live! was the brainchild of Indiana Producer Danny Hubbard. M.C. Hammer as well as Bell Biv Devoe, the Boys, En Vogue, C+C Music Factory, Quincy Jones, Sherman Hemsley and Keenen Ivory Wayans. Ice-T, Tone Loc and Kool Moe Dee performed paying homage to Brown. This was Brown's first public performance since his parole from the South Carolina prison system in February. He served 2 1/2 years of two concurrent six-year sentences for aggravated assault and other felonies.
Brown continued making recordings. In 1993, his album Universal James was released. It included his final Billboard charting single, "Can't Get Any Harder", which peaked at No. 76 on the US R&B chart and reached No. 59 on the UK chart. Its brief charting in the UK was probably due to the success of a remixed version of "I Feel Good" featuring Dakeyne. Brown also released the singles, "How Long" and "Georgia-Lina", which failed to chart. In 1995 Brown returned to the Apollo and recorded Live at the Apollo 1995. It included a studio track titled "Respect Me", which was released as a single; again it failed to chart. Brown's final studio albums, I'm Back and The Next Step, were released in 1998 and 2002 respectively. I'm Back featured the song "Funk on Ah Roll", which peaked at No. 40 in the UK but did not chart in his native US. The Next Step included Brown's final single, "Killing Is Out, School Is In". Both albums were produced by Derrick Monk. Brown's concert success, however, remained unabated and Brown kept up with a grueling schedule throughout the remainder of his life, living up to his previous nickname, "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business", in spite of his advanced age. In 2003, Brown participated in the PBS American Masters television documentary James Brown: Soul Survivor, which was directed by Jeremy Marre.
Brown celebrated his status as an icon by appearing in a variety of entertainment and sports events, including an appearance on the WCW pay-per-view event, SuperBrawl X, where he danced alongside wrestler Ernest "The Cat" Miller, who based his character on Brown, during his in-ring skit with The Maestro. Brown was then featured in Tony Scott's short film, Beat the Devil, in 2001. Brown was featured 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. In 2002, Brown appeared in Undercover Brother, playing himself.
The beginning of 2005 saw the publication of Brown's second book, I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul, written with Marc Eliot. In February and March he participated in recording sessions for an intended studio album with Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, and other longtime collaborators. Though he lost interest in the album, which remains unreleased, a track from the sessions, "Gut Bucket", appeared on a compilation CD included with the August 2006 issue of MOJO. He 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, which was released in 2007. In 2006, Brown continued his "Seven Decades of Funk World Tour", his last concert tour where he performed all over the world. His final U.S. performances were in San Francisco on August 20, 2006, as headliner at the Festival of the Golden Gate (Foggfest) on the Great Meadow at Fort Mason. The following day, August 21, he performed at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA, at a small theatre (800 seats) on campus. 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. He played a full concert as part of the BBC's Electric Proms on October 27, 2006, at The Roundhouse, supported by The Zutons, with special appearances from Max Beasley and The Sugababes. Brown's last televised appearance was at his induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame in November 2006, before his death the following month.
On December 23, 2006, Brown became very ill and arrived 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 Memorial Hospital the next day 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 a noisy cough since he returned from a November trip to Europe. Bobbit also added that Brown never complained about being sick, and often performed while ill. 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. However, Brown remained hospitalized, and his medical condition worsened throughout that day.
On December 25, 2006, Brown died at approximately 1:45 am EST (06:45 UTC) from congestive heart failure resulting from complications of pneumonia, at the age of 73, with his personal manager and longtime friend Charles Bobbit at his bedside. According to Bobbit, Brown stuttered "I'm going away tonight", and then took three long, quiet breaths and fell asleep before dying.
After Brown's death, 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 Michael Jackson, Jimmy Cliff, Joe Frazier, Buddy Guy, Ice Cube, Ludacris, Dr. Dre, Little Richard, Dick Gregory, MC Hammer, Prince, Jesse Jackson, Ice-T, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bootsy Collins, LL Cool J, Lil Wayne, Lenny Kravitz, 50 Cent, Stevie Wonder, Todd Williams and Don King, among others. All of the public and private memorial services were officiated by Rev. Al Sharpton.
Brown's public and private memorial ceremonies were elaborate, complete with costume changes for Brown and videos featuring him in concert performances. Brown's body, which was placed in a Promethean casket, which is bronze polished to a golden shine, was driven through the streets of New York to the Apollo Theater in a white, glass-encased horse-drawn carriage. In Augusta, Georgia, the procession for Brown's public memorial visited Brown's statue as the procession made its way to the James Brown Arena. During the public memorial at the James Brown Arena, a video showed Brown's last performance in Augusta, Georgia and the Ray Charles version of "Georgia on My Mind" played soulfully in the background. Brown's last backup band, The Soul Generals, also played the music of Brown's hits during the memorial service at the James Brown Arena. The group was joined by Bootsy Collins on bass, with MC Hammer performing a dance in James Brown style. Former Temptations lead singer Ali-Ollie Woodson performed "Walk Around Heaven All Day" at the memorial services. He was buried at the Thomas Family Home Crypt in South Carolina
James Brown signed his last will and testament on August 1, 2000, before Strom Thurmond, Jr., an attorney for Brown's estate. The irrevocable trust, separate and apart from Brown's will, was created on Brown's behalf in 2000 by his attorney, Albert "Buddy" Dallas, who was named as one of three personal representatives of Brown's estate. Brown's will covered the disposition of his personal assets, such as clothing, cars and jewelry, while Brown's irrevocable trust covered the disposition of music rights, business assets of James Brown Enterprises and Brown's Beech Island estate in South Carolina.
During the reading of Brown's will on January 11, 2007, Thurmond revealed that Brown's six adult living children (Terry Brown, Larry Brown, Daryl Brown, Yamma Brown Lumar, Deanna Brown Thomas and Venisha Brown) were named in the will. Hynie and James II were not mentioned in the will as parties who could inherit Brown's property. Brown's will was signed ten months before James II was born and more than a year before Brown's marriage to Tomi Rae Hynie. Like Brown's will, his irrevocable trust also did not mention Hynie and James II as recipients of Brown's property. The irrevocable trust was established before, and had not been amended since, the birth of James II.
On January 24, 2007, Brown's children filed a lawsuit against the personal representatives of Brown's estate. In their petition, Brown's children asked the court to remove the personal representatives of Brown's estate (including Brown's attorney and estate's trustee, Albert "Buddy" Dallas) and appoint a special administrator because of perceived impropriety and alleged mismanagement of Brown's assets. To challenge the validity of the will and irrevocable trust, Hynie also filed a lawsuit against Brown's estate on January 31, 2007. In her lawsuit against Brown's estate, Hynie asked the court to recognize her as Brown's widow, and she also asked the court to appoint a special administrator for the estate.
On January 27, 2015, Judge Doyet Early III ruled that Tommie Rae Hynie Brown is officially the widow of James Brown. The decision was based on the grounds that Hynie's previous marriage was invalid and that James Brown abandoned his efforts to annul his own marriage to Hynie. If the ruling stands, Hynie could be entitled to a share of the James Brown estate.
On February 19, 2015, the South Carolina Supreme Court intervened, halting all lower court actions in the estate and undertaking to review previous actions itself.
For many years, Brown's touring show was one of the most extravagant productions in American popular music. At the time of Brown's death, his band included three guitarists, two bass guitar players, two drummers, three horns and a percussionist. The bands that he maintained during the late 1960s and 1970s were of comparable size, and the bands also included a three-piece amplified string section that played during the ballads. Brown employed between 40 and 50 people for the James Brown Revue, and members of the revue traveled with him in a bus to cities and towns all over the country, performing upwards of 330 shows a year with almost all of the shows as one-nighters.
Before James Brown appeared on stage, his personal MC gave him an elaborate introduction accompanied by drumrolls, as the MC worked in Brown's various sobriquets along with the names of many of his hit songs. The introduction by Fats Gonder, captured on Brown's 1963 album Live at the Apollo album, is a representative example:
James Brown's performances were famous for their intensity and length. His own stated goal was to "give people more than what they came for — make them tired, 'cause that's what they came for.'" Brown's concert repertoire consisted mostly of his own hits and recent songs, with a few R&B covers mixed in. Brown danced vigorously as he sang, working popular dance steps such as the Mashed Potato into his routine along with dramatic leaps, splits and slides. In addition, his horn players and backup singers (The Famous Flames) typically performed choreographed dance routines, and later incarnations of the Revue included backup dancers. Male performers in the Revue were required to wear tuxedoes and cummerbunds long after more casual concert wear became the norm among the younger musical acts. Brown's own extravagant outfits and his elaborate processed hairdo completed the visual impression. A James Brown concert typically included a performance by a featured vocalist, such as Vicki Anderson or Marva Whitney, and an instrumental feature for the band, which sometimes served as the opening act for the show.
A trademark feature of Brown's stage shows, usually during the song "Please, Please, Please", involved Brown dropping to his knees while clutching the microphone stand in his hands, prompting the show's longtime MC, Danny Ray, to come out, drape a cape over Brown's shoulders and escort him off the stage after he had worked himself to exhaustion during his performance. As Brown was escorted off the stage by the MC, Brown's vocal group, The Famous Flames, continued singing the background vocals "Please, please don't go-oh-oh". Brown would then shake off the cape and stagger back to the microphone to perform an encore. Brown's routine was inspired by a similar one used by the professional wrestler Gorgeous George, as well as Little Richard.
Brown performs a version of the cape routine over the closing credits of the film Blues Brothers 2000 and on the T.A.M.I. Show (1964) in which he upstages the Rolling Stones. The Police refer to "James Brown on the T.A.M.I. Show" in their 1980 song "When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around."
Brown demanded extreme discipline, perfection and precision from his musicians and dancers — performers in his Revue showed up for rehearsals and members wore the right "uniform" or "costume" for concert performances. During an interview conducted by Terri Gross during the NPR segment "Fresh Air" with Maceo Parker, a former saxophonist in Brown's band for most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s and 1980s, Parker offered his experience with the discipline that Brown demanded of the band:
You gotta be on time. You gotta have your uniform. Your stuff's got to be intact. You gotta have the bow tie. You got to have it. You can't come up without the bow tie. You cannot come up without a cummerbund ... patent leather shoes we were wearing at the time gotta be greased. You just gotta have this stuff. This is what ... bought the costumes. He bought the shoes. And if for some reason to leave the group, please leave my uniforms ....— Maceo Parker
Brown also had a practice of directing, correcting and assessing fines on members of his band who broke his rules, such as wearing unshined shoes, dancing out of sync or showing up late on stage. During some of his concert performances, Brown danced in front of his band with his back to the audience as he slid across the floor, flashing hand signals and splaying his pulsating fingers to the beat of the music. Although audiences thought Brown's dance routine was part of his act, this practice was actually his way of pointing to the offending member of his troupe who played or sang the wrong note or committed some other infraction. Brown used his splayed fingers and hand signals to alert the offending person of the fine that person must pay to him for breaking his rules.
Brown's demands of his support acts were, however, quite the reverse. As Fred Wesley recalled of his time as musical director of the JBs, if Brown felt intimidated by a support act he would try to "undermine their performances by shortening their sets without notice, demanding that they not do certain showstopping songs, and even insisting on doing the unthinkable, playing drums on some of their songs. A sure set killer."
Brown's main social activism was in preserving the need for education among youths, influenced by his own troubled childhood and his forced dropping out of the seventh grade for wearing "insufficient clothes". Due to heavy dropout rates in the 1960s, Brown released the pro-education song, "Don't Be a Drop-Out". Royalties of the song were donated to charity used for dropout prevention programs. The success of this led to Brown meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House. Johnson cited Brown for being a positive role model to the youth. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, Brown provided a free city-wide concert in Boston to maintain public order (over the objections of the police chief, who wanted to call off the concert, which he thought would incite violence.). A lifelong Republican like his best friend, Ray Charles, James Brown gained the confidence of President Richard Nixon, to whom he found he had to explain the plight of Black Americans. Brown's outspoken support of President Nixon and the Republican Party in the election of 1972 led groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP and the National Urban League to launch a nationwide boycott of his businesses, at a time when Brown was the most successful Black entrepreneur in America (below). He was also harassed by J. Edgar Hoover and the IRS, probably because Hoover thought it "dangerous" that a young "Black radical" had the ear of the president.
Throughout the remainder of his life, Brown made public speeches in schools and continued to advocate the importance of education in school. Upon filing his will in 2002, Brown advised that most of the money in his estate go into creating the I Feel Good, Inc. Trust to benefit disadvantaged children and provide scholarships for his grandchildren. His final single, "Killing Is Out, School Is In", advocated against murders of young children in the streets. Brown often gave out money and other items to children while traveling to his childhood hometown of Augusta. A week before his death, while looking gravely ill, Brown gave out toys and turkeys to kids at an Atlanta orphanage, something he had done several times over the years.
Though Brown performed at benefit rallies for civil rights organizations in the mid-1960s, Brown often shied away from discussing civil rights in his songs. In 1968, in response to a growing urge of anti-war advocacy during the Vietnam War, Brown recorded the song, "America Is My Home". In the song, Brown performed a rap, advocating patriotism and exhorting listeners to "stop pitying yoursel and get up and fight." At the time of the song's release, Brown had been participating in performing for troops stationed in Vietnam. A day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Brown gave out a televised concert at the Boston Garden to calm concerned Boston relatives. The show was later released on DVD as Live at the Boston Garden: April 5, 1968. According to the documentary, The Night James Brown Saved Boston, then-mayor Kevin White had strongly restrained the Boston police from cracking down on minor violence, and protests after the assassination and religious and community leaders worked to keep tempers from flaring. White arranged to have Brown's performance broadcast multiple times on Boston's public television station, WGBH, thus keeping potential rioters off the streets, watching the concert for free. Angered by not being told of this, Brown demanded $60,000 for "gate" fees (money he thought would be lost from ticket sales on account of the concert being broadcast for free) and then threatened to go public about the secret arrangement when the city balked at paying up afterwards, news of which would have been a political death blow to White and spark riots of its own. White eventually lobbied the behind-the-scenes power-brokering group known as "The Vault" to come up with money for Brown's gate fee and other social programs, contributing $100,000. Brown received $15,000 from them via the city. White also persuaded management at the Garden to give up their share of receipts to make up the differences. Following this successful performance, Brown was cautioned by President Johnson to visit cities ravaged from riots following King's assassination to not resort to violence, telling them to "cool it, there's another way".
Responding to pressure from black activists, including H. Rap Brown, to take a bigger stance on their issues and from footage of black on black crime committed in inner cities, Brown wrote lyrics to the song, "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud", which his bandleader, Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis accompanied with a musical composition. Released late that summer, the song's lyrics helped to make it an anthem to the civil rights movement. Brown only performed the song sporadically following its initial release and later stated he had regrets recording it, saying in 1984, "Now 'Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud' has done more for the black race than any other record, but if I had my choice, I wouldn't have done it, because I don't like defining anyone by race. To teach race is to teach separatism." In his autobiography he stated:
The song is obsolete now... But it was necessary to teach pride then, and I think the song did a lot of good for a lot of people... People called "Black and Proud" militant and angry – maybe because of the line about dying on your feet instead of living on your knees. But really, if you listen to it, it sounds like a children's song. That's why I had children in it, so children who heard it could grow up feeling pride... The song cost me a lot of my crossover audience. The racial makeup at my concerts was mostly black after that. I don't regret it, though, even if it was misunderstood.”
With the release of a movie about his music and life, there has been a strong resurgence of interest in Brown's importance to civil rights and the black community. In the summer, 2014, the website Portside posted this commentary on the impact of the song "Now 'Say it Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud"
"He was a civil rights icon. Put James in the pantheon of the most impactful black men of the 20th century, and he would not be out of place. How can I make such an assertion? One song: "I'm Black and I'm Proud."
Before that song, if you wanted to start a fight with a man of color, all one had to do was call him black. Up until the mid-sixties, we were trying define ourselves: not colored anymore, now Negro. But black was not something we called ourselves. And along comes this little man and proudly states, "I'm black and I'm proud!" He took the thing that the oppressor used to bludgeon us and made it a weapon of pride for us.
That song caught on like wildfire. One day, our heads were down, the next day, our heads were held high, proud of who we were. We had all these groups, civil rights groups, Muslims, Panthers, but it was JB who gave us our swagger. That song lifted up an entire race! He put us on his back and carried us. Dr. King gave us our rights. JB gave us our dignity. Civil rights icon? You better believe it.When that song came on the radio, cars stopped in the street. People turned up their radios, came out of their houses, and sang along with it; radio stations put it in a loop and played it for hours. The next day people greeted each other with "Hello, black man!" "My black brother." JB made black beautiful overnight." (Portside.com, 2014)
In 1969, Brown recorded two more songs of social commentary, "World" and "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing", the latter song pleading for equal opportunity and self-reliance rather than entitlement. In 1970, in response to some black leaders for not being outspoken enough, Brown recorded "Get Up, Get into It, Get Involved" and "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing". In 1971, Brown began touring Africa including Zambia and Nigeria. He was made "freeman of the city" in Lagos, Nigeria by Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, for his "influence on black people all over the world." With his company, James Brown Enterprises, Brown helped to provide jobs for blacks in business in the communities. As the 1970s continued, Brown continued to record songs of social commentary, much prominently, 1972's "King Heroin" and the two-part ballad "Public Enemy", which dealt with drug addiction.
During the 1968 presidential campaign, Brown endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey and appeared with Humphrey at political rallies. Brown began supporting Republican president Richard Nixon after being invited to perform at Nixon's inaugural ball in January 1969. Brown's endorsement of Nixon during the 1972 presidential election negatively impacted his career during that period with several national Black organizations boycotting his records and protesting at his concert shows. Brown stated he was neither Democratic nor Republican despite his support of Republican presidents such as Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In 1999, when being interviewed by Rolling Stone, the magazine asked him to name a hero in the 20th century, Brown mentioned John F. Kennedy and 96-year-old, former Dixiecrat Senator Strom Thurmond, stating "when the young whippersnappers get out of line, whether Democratic or Republican, an old man can walk up and say 'Wait a minute, son, it goes this way.' And that's great for our country. He's like a grandfather to me." In 2003, Brown was the featured attraction of a D.C. fundraiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Following the deaths of Ronald Reagan and his friend Ray Charles, Brown said to CNN, "I'm kind of in an uproar. I love the country and I got – you know I've been around a long time, through many presidents and everything. So after losing Mr. Reagan, who I knew very well, then Mr. Ray Charles, who I worked with and lived with like, all our life, we had a show together in Oakland many, many years ago and it's like you found the placard."
At the end of his life, James Brown lived in a riverfront home in Beech Island, South Carolina, directly across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia. Brown had diabetes that went undiagnosed for years, according to his longtime manager Charles Bobbit. In 2004 Brown was successfully treated for prostate cancer. Regardless of his health, Brown maintained his reputation as the "hardest working man in show business" by keeping up with his grueling performance schedule.
Brown was married four times. He married his first wife, Velma Warren, in 1953. Over a decade later, the couple had separated, with their divorce finalized by 1969. Despite this, Brown and Warren maintained a close friendship that lasted until Brown's death. Brown married his second wife, Deidre "Deedee" Jenkins, on October 22, 1970. The couple were separated by 1979 and their divorce was finalized on January 10, 1981. His third marriage was to Adrienne Lois Rodriguez (March 9, 1950 – January 6, 1996). Brown married her in 1984. After a contentious marriage that made headlines due to domestic abuse complaints, Rodriguez died in January 1996. Less than a year after her death, Brown hired Tomi Rae Hynie to be a background singer for his band. Brown and Hynie began dating shortly afterwards.
On December 23, 2002, Brown and Hynie held a wedding ceremony that was officiated by Rev. Larry Flyer. Following Brown's death, controversy surrounded the circumstances of the marriage, with Brown's attorney, Albert "Buddy" Dallas, reporting that the marriage wasn't valid because Hynie was married to Javed Ahmed, a man from Bangladesh whom Hynie claimed married her to obtain residency through a Green Card. Though Hynie contended the marriage was annulled, the annulment didn't occur until April 2004. In an attempt to prove her marriage to Brown was valid, Hynie produced a 2001 marriage certificate as proof of her marriage to Brown, but she did not provide King with court records pointing to an annulment of her marriage to him or to Ahmed. According to Dallas, Brown was angry and hurt that Hynie had concealed her prior marriage from him and Brown moved to file for annulment from Hynie. Dallas added that though Hynie's marriage to Ahmed was annulled after she married Brown, the Brown-Hynie marriage was not valid under South Carolina law because Brown and Hynie did not remarry after the annulment. In August 2003, Brown took out a full-page public notice in Variety featuring Hynie, James II and himself on vacation at Disney World to announce that he and Hynie were going their separate ways.
Brown had numerous children and acknowledged nine of them including five sons – Teddy (1954–1973), Terry, Larry, Daryl and James Joseph Brown II and four daughters – Lisa, Dr. Yamma Noyola Brown Lumar, Deanna Brown Thomas and Venisha Brown. Brown also had eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Brown's eldest son, Teddy, died in a car crash on June 14, 1973. According to an August 22, 2007 article published in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, DNA tests indicate that Brown also fathered at least three extramarital children. The first one of them who has been identified is LaRhonda Pettit (born 1962), a retired air stewardess and teacher who lives in Houston. During contesting of Brown's will, another of the Brown family attorneys, Debra Opri revealed to Larry King that Brown wanted a DNA test performed after his death to confirm the paternity of James Brown II — not for Brown's sake but for the sake of the other family members. In April 2007, Hynie selected a guardian ad litem whom she wants appointed by the court to represent her son, James Brown II, in the paternity proceedings.
For the majority of his career, Brown had a strict drug and alcohol-free policy for any member in his entourage, including band members, and would fire people who disobeyed orders, particularly those who used or abused drugs and alcohol. Some members of Brown's vocal group the Famous Flames were fired due to alcohol use. Despite the policy, some of the original members of Brown's 1970s band, The J.B.'s, including Catfish and Bootsy Collins, intentionally took LSD during a concert gig in 1971, causing Brown to fire them after the show because he had suspected them to be on drugs all along.
However, by the mid-1980s, it was alleged that Brown himself was using drugs. After meeting and later marrying Adrienne Rodriguez, she and Brown began using PCP ("angel dust"). The drug resulted in domestically violent outbursts from Brown and he was arrested several times for domestic violence against Rodriguez while high on the drug. After a 1988 arrest from allegedly hitting his wife with a lead pipe and shooting at her in their car during an argument, Brown went on the CNN program Sonya Live in L.A. and appeared to be behaving erratically in response to questions asked by host Sonya Friedman, refusing to discuss the domestic issue with Rodriguez, instead wanting to bring more focus on his professional life. At one point during the interview, Brown began shouting out his song titles to one of Friedman's questions. The interview later went viral and led some to assume that Brown was either drunk or on drugs.
One of Brown's former mistresses recalled in an GQ magazine article on Brown some years after his death that Brown would smoke PCP "until that got hard to find," and cocaine, mixed with tobacco in Kool cigarettes. In January 1998, he spent a week in rehab to deal with an addiction to prescription drugs. A week following his release, he was arrested for an unlawful use of a handgun and possession of cannabis.
Brown's personal life was marred by several brushes with the law. At the age of 16, he was convicted of theft and served three years in juvenile prison. On July 16, 1978, after performing at the Apollo, Brown was arrested for reportedly failing to turn in records from one of his radio stations after the station was forced to file for bankruptcy. Brown was arrested in May 1988 on drug and weapons charges, and again on September 24, 1988, following a high-speed car chase on Interstate 20 near the Georgia-South Carolina state border. He was convicted of carrying an unlicensed pistol and assaulting a police officer, along with various drug-related and driving offenses. Although he was sentenced to six years in prison, he was eventually released on parole on February 27, 1991 after serving two years of his sentence. Brown's FBI file, released to The Washington Post in 2007 under the Freedom of Information Act, related Brown's claim that the high-speed chase did not occur as claimed by the police, and that local police shot at his car several times during an incident of police harassment and assaulted him after his arrest. Local authorities found no merit to Brown's accusations.
In another incident, the police were summoned to Brown's residence on July 3, 2000 after he was accused of charging at an electric company repairman with a steak knife when the repairman visited Brown's house to investigate a complaint about having no lights at the residence. In 2003, Brown was pardoned by the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services for past crimes that he was convicted of committing in South Carolina.
For the remainder of his life, Brown was repeatedly arrested for domestic violence. Adrienne Rodriguez, his third wife, had him arrested four times between 1987 and 1995 on charges of assault. In January 2004, Brown was arrested in South Carolina on a domestic violence charge after Tomi Rae Hynie accused him of pushing her to the floor during an argument at their home, where she suffered scratches and bruises to her right arm and hip. Later that year in June 2004, Brown pleaded no contest to the domestic violence incident, but served no jail time. Instead, Brown was required to forfeit a US$1,087 bond as punishment.
In January 2005, a woman named Jacque Hollander filed a lawsuit against James Brown, which stemmed from an alleged 1988 rape. When the case was initially heard before a judge in 2002, Hollander's claims against Brown were dismissed by the court as the limitations period for filing the suit had expired. Hollander claimed that stress from the alleged assault later caused her to contract Graves' Disease, a thyroid condition. Hollander claimed that the incident took place in South Carolina while she was employed by Brown as a publicist. Hollander alleged that, during her ride in a van with Brown, Brown pulled over to the side of the road and sexually assaulted her while he threatened her with a shotgun. In her case against Brown, Hollander entered as evidence a DNA sample and a polygraph result, but the evidence was not considered due to the limitations defense. Hollander later attempted to bring her case before the Supreme Court but nothing became of her complaint.
James Brown received a variety of awards and honors throughout his lifetime and after his death. At one city, fans voted to honor Brown by naming a bridge after the entertainer. In 1993, the City Council of Steamboat Springs, Colorado conducted a poll of its residents to choose a new name for the bridge that crossed the Yampa River on Shield Drive. The winning name with 7,717 votes was "James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge". The bridge was officially dedicated in September 1993, and James Brown appeared at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the event. Although a petition was started by a local group of ranchers to return the name of the bridge to "Stockbridge" for historical reasons, the ranchers backed off after citizens defeated their efforts because of the popularity of Brown's name. Brown returned to Steamboat Springs, Colorado on July 4, 2002 for an outdoor music festival, performing with other bands such as The String Cheese Incident.
During his long career, James Brown received several prestigious music industry awards and honors. In 1983, Brown was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Brown was named as one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural induction dinner in New York on January 23, 1986. However, the members of his original vocal group, The Famous Flames (Bobby Byrd, Johnny Terry, Bobby Bennett, and Lloyd Stallworth) were not inducted. However, on April 14, 2012, The Famous Flames were automatically and retroactively inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside James Brown, without the need for nomination and voting, under the premise that they should have been inducted with him back in 1986. On February 25, 1992, Brown was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 34th annual Grammy Awards. Exactly a year later, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 4th annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards. A ceremony was held for Brown on January 10, 1997 to honor him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
On June 15, 2000, Brown was honored as an inductee for the New York Songwriters Hall of Fame. On August 6, 2002, James Brown was honored as the first BMI Urban Icon at the BMI Urban Awards. His BMI accolades include an impressive ten R&B Awards and six Pop Awards. On November 14, 2006, Brown was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, and he was one of several inductees who performed at the ceremony. In recognition of his accomplishments as an entertainer, Brown was a recipient of Kennedy Center Honors on December 7, 2003. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked James Brown as No. 7 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In an article for Rolling Stone, critic Robert Christgau cited Brown as "the greatest musician of the rock era".
He appeared on the BET Awards June 24, 2003, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Michael Jackson, and he would perform with him.
Brown was also honored in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia for his philanthropy and civic activities. On November 20, 1993, Mayor Charles DeVaney of Augusta held a ceremony to dedicate a section of 9th Street between Broad and Twiggs Streets, renamed "James Brown Boulevard", in the entertainer's honor. On May 6, 2005, as a 72nd birthday present for Brown, the city of Augusta unveiled a life-sized bronze James Brown statue on Broad Street. The statue was to have been dedicated a year earlier, but the ceremony was put on hold because of a domestic abuse charge that Brown faced at the time. In 2005, Charles "Champ" Walker and the We Feel Good Committee went before the County commission and received approval to change Augusta's slogan to "We Feel Good". Afterwards, Official renamed the city's civic center the James Brown Arena, and James Brown attended a ceremony for the unveiling of the namesake center on October 15, 2006.
On December 30, 2006, during the public memorial service at the James Brown Arena, Dr. Shirley A.R. Lewis, president of Paine College, a historically black college in Augusta, Georgia, bestowed posthumously upon Brown an honorary doctorate in recognition and honor of his many contributions to the school in its times of need. Brown was scheduled originally to receive the honorary doctorate from Paine College during its May 2007 commencement.
During the 49th Annual Grammy Awards presentation held on February 11, 2007, James Brown's famous cape was draped over a microphone by Danny Ray at the end of a montage in honor of notable people in the music industry who died during the previous year. Earlier that evening, Christina Aguilera delivered an impassioned performance of one of Brown's hits, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" followed by a standing ovation, while Chris Brown performed a dance routine in honor of James Brown.
On August 17, 2013, the official R&B Music Hall of Fame honored and inducted James Brown at a ceremony held at the Waetejen Auditorium at Cleveland State University.
As a tribute to James Brown, the Rolling Stones covered the song, "I'll Go Crazy" from Brown's Live at the Apollo album, during their 2007 European tour. Jimmy Page has remarked, "He was almost a musical genre in his own right and he changed and moved forward the whole time so people were able to learn from him."
On December 22, 2007, the first annual "Tribute Fit For the King of King Records" in honor of James Brown was held at the Madison Theater in Covington, Kentucky. The tribute, organized by Bootsy Collins, featured appearances by Afrika Bambaataa, Chuck D of Public Enemy, The Soul Generals, Buckethead, Freekbass, Triage and many of Brown's surviving family members. Comedian Michael Coyer was the MC for the event. During the show, the mayor of Cincinnati proclaimed December 22 as James Brown Day.
Four of James Brown's albums appeared on the Rolling Stone Magazine's 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time:
In addition, Brown's 1970 double album Sex Machine was ranked 96th in a 2005 survey held by British television station Channel 4 to determine the 100 greatest albums of all time. Other notable albums, originally released as double LP records, feature extensive playing by The J.B.'s and served as prolific sources of samples for later musical artists, including:
The 1968 Live at the Apollo, Vol. II double LP album was notably influential on musicians at the time of its release. This classic album remains an example of Brown's energetic live performances and audience interaction, as well as providing a means of documenting the metamorphosis of his music from the R&B and soul styles into hard funk.
Until the early 1970s, Brown was famous mostly for his road show and singles, rather than his albums (with his live LPs as a major exception). Six of his hit singles appeared on the Rolling Stone Magazine's 2004 list of the 500 greatest songs of all time:
In 2006, Hip-O Select Records began a multi-volume reissue of James Brown's complete singles (both A-sides and B-sides) on CD. Eleven volumes have been released, covering the periods 1956–60, 1960–63, 1964–65, 1966–67, 1967–69, 1969–70, 1970–72, 1972–73, 1973–75, 1975–79, and 1979–81.
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