May 3, 1933 - December 25, 2006
As a consequence, little James
grew up in his aunt’s brothel
in Augusta, Georgia. He had
to earn his living from his earliest
years. He was a shoe-shine boy, he
washed cars and dishes and even
picked cotton. At the age of 16,
he was caught breaking into a car
and spent three years in jail. Then,
after a short career as a boxer and
a baseball pitcher, James Brown
discovered gospel music.
With his friend Bobby
Byrd he started the band Famous
Flames. Brown’s ecstatic singing
style with trademark screams
soon brought him local popularity.
The band switched from gospel
to rhythm and blues, toured Georgia
and developed into a black
music revue in which all members
had to play at least two instruments
as well as dance and
sing. When they were about to
record their first professional studio
album in 1955, James ended
He was born in Barnwell,
South Carolina. At least,
this is the birthplace
that most of his official
biographies give (other
possible locations include
Pulaski, Tennessee and
Macon, Georgia). The
artist used false identity
documents so often that
he was probably not sure
himself! Brown’s mother
abandoned her only child
when the boy was four and
his father never even tried
to look after him.
up behind bars again, this time
for causing a car crash… However,
by that time he was influential
enough to be released after
a few days. In April 1956, the
Famous Flames recorded the single
Please, Please, Please which
soared into the R&B top ten.
Brown called himself “the
hardest-working man in show
business.” On average, he recorded
four albums a year, and
in 1969–as many as nine. Sadly,
James Brown’s artistic success
was marred by legal, financial and
family problems. At some point,
he had to pay $4.5 million in back
taxes. He was involved in a bribery
scandal, his marriages broke
up and his oldest son Teddy died
in a car accident in 1973. After this
tragedy, Brown stopped recording
and touring for a long time. His return
was never as successful as his
career before the break. Together
with the impact of disco music
in the 1970s–Brown is known as
a victim of the disco revolution–
this popularity crisis contributed
to the singer’s drug addiction and
violent behavior. In 1987, James
Brown was arrested for drug possession
and a high-speed car chase.
His resistance to arrest and illegal
possession of firearms made it
worse. In December 1988, he was
sent to prison for six years. After
only 15 months at the State Park
Prison in Columbia, Brown was
moved to a rehabilitation centre
for good conduct and then released
in February 1991 on the condition
that he neither drove nor possessed
He did. In January 1998, the
65-year-old legend was arrested
yet again. This time he was treated
for drug addiction while in prison.
After his release, half a year later,
James Brown came to Poland. On
18 July, he gave a concert in Sopot.
He also spoke to us.
Mr Dynamite, Godfather of Soul,
Minister of Funk… What do you
It’s always been the way my fans
call me–Godfather of Soul. I’ve always
been part of that music, no
matter how the styles and fashions
have changed. My music is happy
music, and it’s important because
the world needs happiness.
What was your childhood like?
I prayed every day to have something
to eat. I was born and raised
in poverty. My father finished his
education in the second grade,
mother–in the fourth. I was lucky
to get to the seventh grade myself.
I was an ambitious and bright kid.
I did those seven grades in three
and a half years!
You were lucky to absorb music
from your early years.
Yeah, I always wanted to be someone;
to be appreciated. After being
a professional sportsman for
a while, I started to sing. And when
I first heard the girls screaming
my name in concert, I didn’t want
to do anything else. I’m sixty-five
now and just look at me–I don’t
look my age.
Which style influenced you more – gospel or blues?
Gospel was more important for
me. But I have always been looking
for something new in music.
So I gave up gospel and easy blues
and did more jazz. The music that God gave me was jazz and gospel.
And that’s funk.
Your most famous album was “Apollo 68” …
… and I had to fight a real battle
with the record company boss,
Syd Nathan, to have that album
recorded! I had to pay for its recording
with my own money; he
only took care of the distribution.
I spent $5,700. Today, that would
be three to four million. For many
years, it was the best-selling record
What is the future of black music?
I’m black, but there is also Indian
and even Japanese blood in my
veins. When you are white, you are
either rich or poor. A black man
must always do better than others.
I remember, back in the time when
my songs were hits, someone told
me to try harder. When you are
black, you must be ten times better
than the rest to achieve something.
Before his death in 2006,
James Brown supervised work on
the screenplay of a movie about
his life. The biographical film
will show both his artistic career
and turbulent private life. The beginning
of the project, directed
by Spike Lee and starring Samuel L. Jackson, is planned for the
James Brown died on Christmas
Day last year after complications
resulting from pneumonia.
Ten thousand people attended his
funeral. The artist wasn’t buried,
though. The coffin with his body
was first kept at his private residence
in South Carolina, then it
was taken to an undisclosed location.
The reasons for this strange
decision remain unknown. We may
only speculate that his family decided
to act this way due to the unclear
inheritance situation. James
Brown was married four times. He
died a very rich man.
translated by Jerzy Chyb
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