James Brown, the dynamic, pompadoured “Godfather of Soul”, whose rasping vocals and revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco, died today in Atlanta, aged 73.
Brown, whose career spanned six decades, was taken to hospital yesterday with pneumonia, said his agent, Frank Copsidas, and died with longtime friend Charles Bobbit at his side.
Brown €™s music was a major influence on modern music, and his work has been sampled by rap artists from the 1980s to this day, his famous 1960s and 1970s break beats becoming the basis of hip hop.
“The music out there is only as good as my last record,” Brown joked in a 1989 interview with Rolling Stone magazine. In 2003, he reaffirmed his impact: “Disco is James Brown, hip hop is James Brown, rap is James Brown; you know what I €™m saying? You hear all the rappers, 90 per cent of their music is me.”
His hit singles include classics such as Out of Sight, Funky Drummer and Say It Loud – I €™m Black and I €™m Proud, a landmark 1968 statement of racial pride.
“I clearly remember we were calling ourselves coloured, and after the song, we were calling ourselves black,” Brown said in a 2003 interview. “The song showed even people to that day that lyrics and music and a song can change society.”
Brown won a Grammy award for lifetime achievement in 1992, as well as Grammys in 1965 for Papa €™s Got a Brand New Bag (best R&B recording) and for Living In America in 1987 (best male R&B vocal performance.)
He was one of the initial artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, along with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and other founding fathers.
He triumphed despite an often unhappy personal life. Brown spent more than two years in a South Carolina prison for assault and failing to stop for a police officer.
Brown, who had his first hit, Please, Please, Please in 1956, earned the nickname “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” for his tour schedule and number of performances. He was still touring this year, with concerts as far flung as Auckland, New Zealand.
“James presented obviously the best grooves,” Chuck D of Public Enemy once said. “To this day, there has been no one near as funky. No one €™s coming even close.”