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James Brown (1933-2006) – Jada Mitchell

james brown

Musical Beginnings

James brown was known to many as the “Godfather of Soul”. His unique vocal and musical style influenced many artists. Brown was also known for his turbulent personal life, as well as his social activism, both in his songwriting (“America is My Home,” “Black and Proud”) and advocating the benefits of education to schoolchildren. Throughout his career that stretched six decades, he influenced the construction of many music genres.

He began his musical career as a gospel singer here in Georgia. He later joined the R&B group the Gospel Starlighters.

Superstardom

James brown hit the road touring the Southeast while opening for such legendary musicians as B.B. King and Ray Charles. Needing a creative spark and in danger of losing his record deal, in 1958, Brown moved to New York, where, working with different musicians whom he also called the Flames, he recorded “Try Me.” The song reached No. 1 on the R&B charts, cracked the Hot 100 Singles chart and kick-started Brown’s music career. He soon followed with a string of hits that included “Lost Someone,” “Night Train” and “Prisoner of Love,” his first song to crack the Top 10 on the pop charts, peaking at No. 2.

Social Activism

In the mid-1960s, James Brown also began devoting more and more energy to social causes. In 1966, he recorded “Don’t Be a Dropout,” an eloquent and impassioned plea to the black community to place more focus on education. A staunch believer in exclusively nonviolent protest, Brown once declared to H. Rap Brown of the Black Panthers, “I’m not going to tell anybody to pick up a gun.”

On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, with riots raging across the country, Brown gave a rare televised live concert in Boston in an attempt to prevent rioting there. His effort succeeded; young Bostonians stayed home to watch the concert on TV and the city largely avoided violence. A few months later he wrote and recorded “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud,” a protest anthem that has unified and inspired generations.

by Jada Mitchell
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