SEVEN DECADES OF FUNK
He is known universally as "The Godfather of Soul" but he is also the undisputed "King of Funk," an American original whose pioneering work has literally helped shape the course of contemporary music. His catalog of classic recordings has made him the most sampled recording artist in history and without any doubt, the rap and hip-hop movements find their very genesis in his music. He is an American national treasure. He is JAMES BROWN!
James Brown is a globally-recognized entertainer who justifiably earned the nickname 'The Hardest Working Man in Show Business' just a few years into a momentous recording career that has included 119 charted singles and over 50 best-selling albums. He has sold millions of records since "Please, Please, Please" first dominated the airwaves and the charts in 1956. He was one of the first Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees and honored with Lifetime Achievement awards by the Grammys and American Music Awards. But beyond the hundreds of accolades and awards he's received over his five decades as a hitmaker and trendsetter, James Brown is a household name from Lagos, Nigeria, to London, England; from his birthplace of Augusta, Georgia, to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.
Mr. James Brown is simply a worldwide icon.
The 21st century finds Mr. Brown celebrating 'Seven Decades of Funk,' enjoying a career renaissance and rejuvenation that will include the release of a new album in 2003 and a series of prestigious worldwide appearances. Yes, this comes 40 years after his groundbreaking Live At The Apollo album (which achieved the seemingly unattainable by reaching No. 2 on Billboard's charts in 1963) helped confirm his status as one of the most dynamic performers in the world.
Experiencing him at an Oakland, California show, writer Philip Gourevitch observed in an extensive July 2002 article in The New Yorker that Mr. Brown "gives his all, and asks for nothing less in return." Such praise is commonplace: surrounded by The Soul Generals, one of the tightest bands in the land, the vocal backup group The Bittersweets, and introduced - as he has been for the past 38 years - by emcee Danny Ray, "Soul Brother No. 1" remains "Mr. Dynamite," giving audiences the kind of entertainment and value for money that has been his trademark for more than 40 years. As he celebrates his 70th birthday in 2003, Mr. Brown's famed dance moves are intact and that powerhouse soul-shouting, funk-searing instantly recognizable voice is as strong as ever.
A James Brown show could last anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours but even at that length it would be virtually impossible for this international superstar to include all of his classic hits.
Mr. Brown may well have been the first hitmaker to bring the word 'funk' (a unique fusion of jazz, R&B, and soul) into mainstream musical vernacular through the late '60s and early '70s. Inventing a new musical and cultural evolution with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," he gave rise to a whole genre that spawned a slew of popular funk groups and became the foundational influence for a generation of young artists who brought rap and hip-hop to prominence in the '80s and '90s.
That James Brown has definitively affected contemporary music across the board was something he could never have foreseen when he first stepped into the basement studio of a radio station in Macon, Georgia in the fall of 1955 with the group 'The Famous Flames' to record a demo of "Please, Please, Please." In the liner notes for the Grammy Award-winning, best-selling 1991 box set Star Time, Mr. Brown states, "When I was very young, my people, the poor community, didn't have the education available to us to be taught music properly. And there were no outlets for playing…So I said, 'There's a need for me to have a place.'"
James Brown found his place, even through the unquestionable challenges of being an African-American entertainer in the late '50s and early '60s. Indeed, while the nation struggled with civil rights, he became one of the first African-American artists to own his master recordings, to create his own production company, and to start his own record label (People Records) in the early '70s. That the music he created back in the day remains as vital as ever is evidenced by the fact that his classic hits are currently used in television commercials and movies such as The Tuxedo, Barbershop, and I Spy, and on the internet.
But beyond his musical contributions, James Brown has always been a leader as well. He played a key role in the U.S. civil rights movement and gave voice to a people discovering self-pride, economic freedom, and political empowerment. As the most popular African-American entertainer of the '60s, it was Mr. Brown who helped quell inner-city riots in the wake of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968.
Scheduled to perform the following night in Boston, Mr. Brown arranged for his show to be televised as a way to keep quiet the troubled and devastated city streets. Nine months later, it was Mr. Brown who performed "Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud" at former President Nixon's 1969 inauguration. Mr. Brown told The New Yorker in July 2002, "I was out there with Dr. King, I was out there with Malcolm [X]… and I knew a lot of people - trying to make it better."
Mr. Brown's ongoing commitment to young people runs deep: he has long been a spokesperson for the importance of education, expressed initially in 1966 through the message in his hit record "Don't Be a Drop-Out," which became the theme for a White House-sponsored stay-in-school campaign. His 2002 release, "Killing Is Out, School Is In" implores young people to "…try romance, turn that hat around, take the gun outta your pants!"
Making an impact with the lyrical message in his music has been a consistent focus but as "Mr. Excitement," Mr. Brown has been instrumental in giving joy and pleasure to people of all races and nationalities on dance floors the world over since he declared "Ain't that a Groove" in 1966. Indeed, everyone has their own James Brown moves.
As he begins his seventh decade of funk, Mr. Brown's music endures, his audiences as eager as ever for his non-stop display of sheer dynamic energy. For James Brown, his unparalleled career is the fulfillment of his lifelong mission. In the opening statement for the liner notes for Star Time, the 1991 box set, he declared, "God had a special job for me. He gave me a special talent to relate to people of all cultures. I found that the common denominator among people was love. Because regardless of all the obstacles which we fight…it all boils down to the love factor. And I believe I was able to create that in my life."
Which he's done magnificently through his leadership, his tireless contribution to social causes but more than anything else, through his music as the true "King of Funk" and of course, "The Godfather of Soul."
-- An Appreciation by David Nathan