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Al Green's White Leather Jacket With Embroidery
Photo by Design Photography
Collection of Al Green

James Brown
Essential Recordings
Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)

Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

King Heroin

It's a Man's Man's Man's World

I Got You (I Feel Good)

Please Please Please

Night Train

Cold Sweat

Funky Drummer


2006 inductees | search all inductees | full inductee list

James Brown

James Brown has had more honorifics attached to his name than any other performer in music history. He has variously been tagged "Soul Brother Number One," "the Godfather of Soul," "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business," "Mr. Dynamite" and even "the Original Disco Man." This much is certain: what became known as soul music in the Sixties, funk music in the Seventies and rap music in the Eighties is directly attributable to James Brown. His transformation of gospel fervor into the taut, explosive intensity of rhythm & blues, combined with precision choreography and dynamic showmanship, served to define the directions black music would take from the release of his first R&B; hit ("Please Please Please") in 1956 to the present day.

James Brown's Tuxedo Stage Jacket, 1983.

James Brown's Tuxedo Stage Jacket, 1983.
Red with satin and rhinestone lapels.
Photo by Design Photography
Collection of James Brown
Brown's life history documents one triumph over adversity after another. He was born into poverty in Barnwell, South Carolina, during the Great Depression. As a child, he picked cotton, danced for spare change and shined shoes. At 16, he was caught and convicted of stealing, and he landed in reform school for three years. While incarcerated, he met Bobby Byrd, leader of a gospel group that performed at the prison. After his release, Brown tried his hand at semipro boxing and baseball. A career-ending leg injury inspired him to pursue music fulltime. He joined Byrd in a group that sang gospel in and around Toccoa, Georgia. But then Byrd and Brown attended a rhythm & blues revue that included Hank Ballard and Fats Domino, whose performances lured them into the realm of secular music. Renaming themselves the Flames (later, the Famous Flames), they became a tightly knit ensemble that showcased their abundant talents as singers, dancers and multi-instrumentalists.

Brown rose to the fore as leader of the James Brown Revue - an entourage complete with emcee, dancers and an untouchable stage band (the J.B.'s). Reportedly sweating off up to seven pounds a night, Brown was a captivating performer who'd incorporate a furious regimen of spins, drops and shtick (such as feigning a heart attack, complete with the ritual donning and doffing of capes and a fevered return to the stage) into his skintight rhythm & blues. What Elvis Presley was to rock and roll, James Brown became to R&B;: a prolific and dominant phenom. Like Presley, he is a three-figure hitmaker, with 114 total entries on Billboard's R&B; singles charts and 94 that made the Hot 100 singles chart. Over the years, he amassed 800 songs in his repertoire while maintaining a grueling touring schedule. Recording for the King and Federal labels throughout the Fifties and Sixties, Brown distilled R&B; to its essence on such classic albums as Live at the Apollo (patterned after Ray Charles' In Person) and singles like "Cold Sweat," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)." His group, the J.B.'s, was anchored by horn players and musical mainstays Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker. Brown also recorded a series of instrumental albums, taking a break from soul shouting to pursue his prowess as an organist.

By the late Sixties, Brown had attained the status of a musical and cultural revolutionary, owing to his message of black pride and self-sufficiency. In the late Sixties and early Seventies, such message songs as "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" reverberated throughout the black community, within which he was regarded as a leader and role model. During this time, he began developing a hot funk sound with young musicians, such as bassist William "Bootsy" Collins, who passed through his ever-evolving band. Though his influence waned in the latter half of the Seventies, a cameo role in The Blues Brothers film in 1980 and his recognition as a forefather of rap helped trigger a resurgence. His records were more heavily sampled by rap and hip-hop acts than those of any other artist, and he achieved renewed street credibility by recording a single ("Unity") with rapper Afrika Bambaataa in 1984. Brown was among the first group of performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Unfortunately, his personal life took a nose-dive in 1988, as he was investigated on a series of charges that ranged from spousal abuse and drug possession to problems with the IRS. Paroled after serving two years in prison, a chastened but resolute Brown picked up the pieces in the Nineties and carried on. If nothing else, his status as the Godfather of Soul has remained unassailable. In December 2003, only months after his 70th birthday, James Brown was the recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors.

Inductee Timeline

May 3, 1933
James Brown is born in Barnwell, South Carolina. He is raised in poverty in Augusta, Georgia, 40 miles away.

James Brown joins the Gospel Starlighters, a vocal quartet led by Bobby Byrd, after completing a four-year stint in prison for robbery. The group will change its focus from gospel to R&B; and its name to the Famous Flames, as Brown becomes the focal point of the act.

November 1, 1955
The Famous Flames record "Please Please Please" at the studio of WIBB in Macon, Georgia.

January 23, 1956
Producer and talent scout Ralph Bass travels to Macon to sign James Brown to the King/Federal label, beating Leonard Chess (of Chess Records) to the punch.

February 4, 1956
James Brown and the Famous Flames cut "Please Please Please" at King/Federal studios in Cincinnati, backed by the label's crack house band. James Brown's recording debut rises to #5 on the R&B; chart.

March 3, 1956
"Please, Please, Please," James Brown's first single for Syd Nathan's Federal label (a King subsidiary), is released, thereby launching the career of this legendary soul singer.

April 11, 1956
"Please Please Please" by James Brown and the Famous Flames reaches #6 on the R&B; charts.

October 1, 1957
After Little Richard abruptly quits rock and roll for religion, James Brown honors pending tour dates in the South in his place. Several members of Little Richard's backup band, the Upsetters, become Famous Flames.

October 1, 1958
James Brown's first #1 hit, "Try Me," is released. It is the best-selling R&B; single of 1958�and the first of 17 chart-topping R&B; singles by Brown over the next two decades.

May 26, 1962
James Brown hits #35 with "Night Train".

October 24, 1962
Against the objections of Syd Nathan, who felt that no one would be interested in a live album of previously released material, James Brown records his performance at New York's Apollo Theater.

June 15, 1963
James Brown hits #18 with "Prisoner of Love".

June 30, 1963
James Brown's 'Live at the Apollo, Vol. 1,' is released. Reaching #2 on the album charts, it the most successful album issued by Syd Nathan's King Records. This same year, King/Federal releases albums by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Freddy King, Earl Bostic and the Stanley Brothers.

OCTOBER 28-29, 1964
The concert film 'The TAMI Show' is recorded in Santa Monica, CA, featuring James Brown, the Beach BoysChuck Berrythe Rolling Stones and the Supremes.

February 1, 1965
James Brown records "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," a revolutionary single that ushers in a whole new era of soul music. Released that summer, it tops the R&B; chart for eight weeks and even cracks the pop Top Ten.

James Brown reaches #3 with "I Got You (I Feel Good)".

June 4, 1966
James Brown hits #8 with "It's A Man's Man's Man's World".

James Brown hit #7 with "Cold Sweat".

Archie Bell & the Drells hit #1 with "Tighten Up"; Johnnie Taylor hits # 5 with "Who's Makin Love"; James Brown hits # 6 with "I Got The Feelin'" and #10 with "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud"; Sly & the Family Stone hit #8 with "Dance to the Music"

December 19, 1968
James Brown releases an album entitle 'Thinking About Little Willie John and a Few Nice Things,' a tribute to his recently deceased friend and King Records labelmate.

March 8, 1969
James Brown hits #15 with "Give It Up or Turn it Loose".

July 19, 1969
James Brown hits #30 with "The Popcorn".

James Brown hit #11 with "Mother Popcorn".

January 24, 1970
James Brown hits #24 with "Ain't It Funky Now (Part 1)".

"Get Up I Feel Like Being Like a Sex..." by James Brown hit #15.

James Brown hits #15 with "Hot Pants".

July 1, 1971
James Brown signs with Polydor Records, for which he'll record extensively throughout the decade.

September 1, 1972
"Get On the Good Foot" tops the R&B; chart for a month and peaks at #18 in the pop Top Forty. A gold-certified million seller, it establishes James Brown as a potent influence on black music in the Seventies�or, as he takes to calling himself, "the Godfather of Soul."

January 5, 1974
'The Payback', the most successful of James Brown's Seventies albums�many of which were double-LPs with lengthy, extended tracks�makes its debut on Billboard's album chart. It is the only gold-certified (500,000 copies sold) album of his career.

September 1, 1974
Lloyd Price stages a music festival in Zaire, Africa, with boxing promoter Don King. The event attracts 120,000 people and offers James Brown, B.B. King, Etta James, Bill Withers, the Spinners and others.

September 1, 1979
James Brown, who has watched his sales figures slip in the disco era, attempts to move in on that market with The Original Disco Man, which only reaches #152 in the album chart.

June 1, 1980
James Brown contributes an unforgettable cameo as a manic preacher in the John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd film The Blues Brothers.

September 1, 1984
Bronx rapper Afrika Bambaataa teams up with James Brown to record the anthemic single "Unity."

January 11, 1986
"Living in America," the theme song from Rocky IV, reaches #4 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, becoming James Brown's biggest pop hit since "I Got You (I Feel Good)" went to #3 in 1965.

January 23, 1986
James Brown is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the first induction dinner, held in New York City.

James Brown hits #4 with "Living in America".

December 15, 1988
James Brown is sentenced to a six-year prison term after a year's worth of arrests on various assault, drug possession and vehicular charges. He leaves prison on parole on February 27, 1991.

February 25, 1992
James Brown receives a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 34th annual Grammy Awards.

February 25, 1993
James Brown receives a Lifetime Achievement Award at the fourth annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards. MC Hammer is his presenter.

May 3, 2003
James Brown turns 70 years old.

December 1, 2003
James Brown receives Kennedy Center Honors.

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