Singer James Brown, the self-proclaimed “Godfather of Soul,” who billed himself as the hardest working man in show business, died on Monday at age 73, his agent said.
Brown died at 1:45 a.m. at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta after being admitted there over the weekend for treatment of severe pneumonia, his agent, Frank Copsidas, said.
The singer, also known as “Mr Dynamite,” is credited with bringing the word “funk” into mainstream musical vernacular and influencing a new generation of black music that spawned rap and hip-hop.
Brown’s hit “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” became a civil rights anthem during the turbulent 1960s and he performed the song at Richard Nixon’s inaugural in 1969 — an act that temporarily hurt his popularity among young blacks.
More than anything else, Brown was a showman, typically changing suits a dozen times during a show and dancing himself into a frenzy on stage. He once said he aimed to wear out his audience and “give people more than what they came for — make them tired.”
He had more than 119 charting singles and recorded over 50 albums, was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 1992.
Brown also built a successful business empire, including a string of radio stations and his own production company, and owned a fleet of expensive cars and his own plane.
He even played the role of a manic preacher in the hit 1980 movie “The Blues Brothers.”
“Soul is all the hard knocks, all the punishment the black man has had … all the unfulfilled dreams that must come true,” he once said.
ARRESTS, PRISON TIME
He was chosen to be a member of President Reagan’s Council Against Drugs, but was arrested several times in the mid-1980s and 90s and charged with drug and weapons possession.
By 1988 Brown, who had begun his music career in jail as a juvenile offender, was back behind bars, sentenced to six years for drug, weapons and vehicular charges after a high-speed car chase through Georgia and South Carolina which ended with police shooting out the tires of his truck. He left prison in 1991.
Brown emerged from a boyhood of extreme poverty and petty crime to become one of the biggest record-sellers in rhythm and blues and later achieved crossover success. His gospel-style voice backed by staccato horns brought a distinctive funky and frenetic sound to black and later white audiences.
“Feeling and flamboyance fused into calculated spontaneity,” one critic wrote of a Brown performance, adding he danced like a dervish and sang with “an astounding range of primitive emotional sounds — grunts, groans, screeches, screams, wails…”
Every record he made during 1960-77 reached the top 100. Big hits included “Please, Please, Please,” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “I Got You (I Feel Good)” “Get Up (I feel like being a Sex Machine)” and “It’s a Man’s World.”
His 1985 monster hit “Living in America,” which was featured in the movie “Rocky IV,” brought him a whole new generation of fans and his first Grammy.
He combined his soul-rending music with a theatrical delivery. He also developed a trademark routine in which he would keep coming back on stage after a show and sing a few lines of “Please, Please, Please” with the sweat pouring from his bare-chested body.
His stage crew would throw a cape over his back and he would leave, only to reappear seconds later on his knees, moaning the song into the microphone. The routine would sometimes go on for 30-40 minutes and send his fans delirious.