In Memoriam: The Legendary James Brown (1933-2006)




The occasion for obituaries is death, which is sad.  But the subject of obituaries is life itself, which is wonderful.”  J. Y. Smith.


James Brown, the singer, songwriter, bandleader and dancer, who indelibly transformed contemporary popular music, died early Christmas morning at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta.  Mr. Brown was born in Barnwell, South Carolina, grew up in Augusta, Georgia, and made his home on Beech Island in South Carolina.  He had been admitted to the Atlanta hospital on Saturday, suffering with pneumonia.

Over a career that lasted more than 50 years, Mr. Brown’s music was sweaty and complex, disciplined and wild, lusty and socially conscious.  Beyond his dozens of hits, Mr. Brown forged an entire musical idiom that became a foundation for pop music worldwide.  thoroughly American.  Songs like “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Cold Sweat,” “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and “Hot Pants” daringly explored the percussive side of every instrument and interlaced sharply syncopated patterns into kinetic multi-rhythmic sounds that drove people onto the dance floor.

Mr. Brown’s innovations echoed throughout the soul and rhythm-and-blues musical movements of the 1970’s, as well as the hip-hop music of the next three decades.  Music critics have claimed that the beat of his 1970 instrumental, “Funky Drummer,” is probably the best example of the rhythm that is present as the core or basic cornerstone of today’s hip-hop music.  Mr. Brown’s stage moves, his spins, quick shuffles, knee-drops and splits, were imitated by many other performers who tried to match his stamina, including musicians such as Mick Jagger, Prince, David Bowie and Michael Jackson.  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.

During the 1960’s, Mr. Brown and his music emerged as a political force.  His blockbuster 1968 hit song, “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud,” forever changed America’s racial vocabulary.  The funky 1968 anthem preached economic self-reliance and taught generations of hard-working blacks it was time to “get our share.”  “We’d rather die on our feet than be livin’ on our knees,” he sang.

He was often in close contact with presidents and elected officials of all political stripes, and he worked to keep the city of Boston from being burned by rioters in the days following the assassination of Martin Luther King.  A few months before Brown’s 1968 ground-breaking recording, King was assassinated and cities all across America were engulfed by riots.  It has been said that Brown may have almost singlehandedly saved Boston from burning.  A day after King’s April 4th murder, he was scheduled to play a concert there.  Worried city officials nervously proposed canceling the show until wiser voices pointed out that angry ticket buyers would definitely cause mayhem.

Brown arranged with the local public television station to broadcast the concert live, and he went on the radio to urge his fans to stay at home and watch the concert for free.  The city’s African-American neighborhoods were eerily quiet that night as a teary-eyed James Brown took to the stage of the Boston Garden and punctuated his soul tunes with remembrances of Martin Luther King and appeals for calm.  The day following the Boston show, Brown flew to Washington, D. C., which already had been badly hit by riots.  Once again, he took to the radio airwaves, appealing for restraint and declaring that education and ownership were better ways to seek justice.

James Brown performed before audiences all around the world, but Georgia was always on his mind.  Peace.


2 Responses to “In Memoriam: The Legendary James Brown (1933-2006)”

  1. neath Says:

    Truly one of the greatest performers of the 20th century. I had been unaware of his work to calm the people after Dr. KIng’s murder. I am only all the more in awe of this incredible, unique, and passionate artist. Perhaps he battled some personal demons, but he gave something enourmous to the world. His influence is profound. And he will be missed.


  2. pendragon Says:

    Thank you.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: