James Brown (May 3, 1933 — Dec. 25, 2006) was an American soul singer who was active as a performer and recording artist for more than five decades, issuing his first singles on King Records-subsidiary Federal in 1956. For the ensuing 12 years, he was backed by the Georgian R&B instrumental group The Famous Flames. During the early 1970s, he was backed by funk ensemble The J.B.’s on a string of albums and soundtrack recordings issued on Polydor.
He was born James Joseph Brown on May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, SC, to young, impoverished parents. At one point, they lived in his aunt’s brothel in Augusta, Ga. As a child, Brown learned how to play the piano, harmonica, and guitar. He was inspired when he heard “Caldonia,” a 1945 jump blues hit by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.
After his mom left the family, Brown hustled to survive and briefly took up boxing. At age 16, he was imprisoned for three years for armed robbery. While incarcerated, he befriended fellow inmate and future soul star Bobby Byrd, who recognized Brown’s talent. After Byrd was released, he helped Brown secure an early release in 1952. Promising to sing for the lord, Brown joined the Ever-Ready Gospel Singers, which featured Byrd’s sister Sarah.
In 1954, Brown joined Byrd’s group The Avrons, which underwent multiple lineup changes and settled on the name Famous Flames. After being signed by Little Richard’s management, they scored a hit in 1956 with “Please, Please, Please” (R&B #6), written by Brown and bandmate Johnny Terry. After Byrd’s departure, Brown assumed control of the group, which was now called James Brown and His Famous Flames. In late 1958, they released “Try Me,” their first of seventeen straight R&B hits.
- Try Me! (1959 • James Brown & His Famous Flames)
- Think! (1960 • James Brown & The Famous Flames)
- Shout and Shimmy (1962 • James Brown and His Famous Flames)
- ‘Live’ at the Apollo (1963)
- It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World (1966)
- Cold Sweat (1967)
- I Can’t Stand Myself When You Touch Me (1968)
- ‘Live’ at the Apollo, Volume II (1968)
- Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud (1969)
- Gettin’ Down to It (1969 • Mr. James Brown)
- The Popcorn (1969)
- It’s a Mother (1969)
- Ain’t It Funky (1970)
- Soul on Top (1970)
- Sex Machine (live, 1970)
- Revolution of the Mind (live, 1971)
- Sho Is Funky Down Here (1971)
- Hot Pants (1971)
- There It Is (1972)
- Get on the Good Foot (1972)
- Black Caesar (OST, 1973)
- Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off (OST, 1973)
- The Payback (2LP, 1973)
- Hell (2LP, 1974)
- Reality (1974)
- Sex Machine Today (1975)
- Everybody’s Doin’ the Hustle & Dead on the Double Bump (1975)
- Bodyheat (1976)
- Hot (1976)
- Get Up Offa That Thing (1976)
- Mutha’s Nature (1977)
- Jam 1980’s (1978)
- Take a Look at Those Cakes (1979)
- The Original Disco Man (1979)
- People (1980)
- Soul Syndrome (1980)
- Nonstop! (1981)
- Bring It On! (1983)
- Gravity (1986)
- I’m Real (1988)
- Love Over-Due (1991)
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