James Brown and Funk

James Brown and his influence on Funk


James Brown was born on May, 3rd 1933 in Barnwell South, Carolina. His parents were Susie and Joseph Brown. When he was four he moved to Augusta, Georgia, which is only 30 minutes from Barnwell.  Augusta is where he spent most of his childhood. He was born during the Great Depression, and grew up poor. When he was younger he would shine shoes and wash cars for a little money. His clothes were made out of sacks, until he was around 9 years old. Because of his lack of sufficient clothing, he was kicked out of school. James Brown turned towards church to ge through hard times, and sung in the choir. 

When Brown became a teenager he turned to a life of crime, and went to jail for three years at the age of 16 for stealing a car. In jail he created a Gospel choir and met Bobby Bryd. Bobby and Brown became friends and musical parters. In 1952 he was released, and begun to focus his energy on sports, specifically boxing and baseball. In 1955 Bobby invited Brown to be apart of an R&B group: The Famous Flames, and they performed in night clubs. In 1956 they recored the record “Please, Please , Please” under King Records. Prior to it’s release they played the song for a talent scout at King Records: Ralph Bass. The song reach number six on the R&B charts. After that his career started to progress as he began to make many songs that made it to the charts. 

James Brown as a child

James Brown and Bobby Byrd

The Famous Flames

As James Brown’s career grew he eventually became a solo artist and recreated his sound in 1964 with his album: Out of Sight. His music is rooted in gospel music and R&B, where majority of the songs had a heavy emphasis on the back beat. Specifically the two and four count, but James decied to switch it up and apply the emphasis to the one or the down beat of the measure. This created space in the song for syncopation to be added to other beats. James Brown wanted to use every instruments to add to the songs rhythmic pattern. By doing these actions he created Funk! 

His signature performance style originated from the black church, specifically preachers. He constantly incorporated call and response into his songs, and his trademark sound was a combination of singing and shouting. 


James Brown’s creation of Funk inspired many genres of today. For example rappers like The Migos, use a similar call and response style that James Brown and Bobby Bryd did in “Get on up.”  His creative mindset and ability to step out of his comfort zone resulted in his title of “Father of Funk.” His legacy will live on throughout his influence on other musicians and a genre many can enjoy. 

Family Ties

My mom’s side of the family resides in Barnwell, South Carolina! My mother was always around him, because he dated my Great Aunt Mary. She is on the cover of his album: Hot Pants

When James Brown was sent to jail for not paying his taxes later on in life, my cousin was his warden. She would let a hair dresser come and do his hair, because they were friends and he wanted to maintain his look. 

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