James Brown was still much more: a global superstar revered for his originality, he invented two musical genres — funk and hip-hop, in case you didn’t know — had a chart streak for 21 solid years and was a charter member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the only one of his legendary class with a then-current top ten hit.
Born in a country shack outside Barnwell, South Carolina, on May 3, 1933, James Brown overcame juvenile detention and a broken home to become one of the most important figures in American culture. His biggest hits, with and without his backing vocal group the Famous Flames, include such timeless, as well as era- and genre-defining, hits as “Please Please Please,” “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “It’s A Man’s, Man’s Man’s World,” “Cold Sweat,” “Sex Machine,” “Super Bad,” “The Payback,” Get Up Offa That Thing,” and many dozens more. His range, from early R&B to raw soul, from ballads to deep funk and pop, is dizzying. Even one of his least hits, “Funky Drummer,” became the backbone of hip-hop.
James Brown’s bands, from his 1960s Orchestra led by Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, to the 1970s J.B.’s featuring Bootsy Collins and later led by Fred Wesley, remain unparalleled. The music they created continues to forge new inspiration. James Brown is still the Godfather of Soul, still Mr. Dynamite, still The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.