James Brown

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James Brown
Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

On 19th July 1989, James Brown changed accommodations behind bars after $40,000 in cash and cheques was discovered in his minimum-security cell. The former ‘Soul Brother Number One’ was at the time known as inmate number 155413 in his new home at the Stevenson Correctional Institute.

During May 1988, Brown was arrested for the fifth time in 12 months, following a car chase near his home. He was charged with assault, resisting arrest and being in charge of illegal weapons, and was given a 6-year jail sentence.

Brown’s rags-to-riches-to-rags story has both heroic and tragic dimensions. Born in a one-room shack in the backwoods of South Carolina, by the age of seven he was boarding at a brothel in Augusta, Georgia. He ran into the wrong side of the law at the age of 16 on an armed robbery conviction and served 3 years in prison.

He eventually served only three years and a day and on his release joined a gospel group. While pursuing a promising but ultimately abortive career as a semi-professional boxer, he rose to become the leader of the James Brown Revue.

Audiences were delighted and outraged by the group’s tight R&B sound, fronted by the charismatic Brown, whose stage antics caused him to shed up to seven pounds a night.

In 1956, Brown wrote the song “Please, Please, Please”. It sold one million copies and propelled the singer to stardom. Success brought great wealth. James Brown owned radio stations, fast food restaurants and a private jet.

As a successful performer, Brown became both a brilliant bandleader and a stern taskmaster, demanding extreme discipline from his musicians and dancers, and had the practice of assessing fines on members of his band who broke his rules, such as wearing unshined shoes, dancing out of sync or showing up late on stage.

As his career slowed down in the mid ’70s and 80’s Brown’s financial empire ran into problems with the US tax man. His son Teddy died in a car accident, which led to a breakdown in Brown’s personal life – resulting in a well-publicised incident in which he was accused by his wife of assault and battery. After a year of skirting hazy legal and personal troubles, he allegedly threatened some people with a handgun, then led the police on an interstate car chase, leading to his 1988 incarceration.

In 2003, the Soul singer was pardoned for his past crimes in the U.S. state of South Carolina. Appearing before the board of correction, he sang “God Bless America” after the decision.

Soul Brother Number One was back and “Living in America” – a testament to the American Dream. He kept on working throughout the 90s, and was known for never calling in sick, but in 2006 it caught up with him. On December 25 of that year, James Brown died from congestive heart failure resulting from complications of pneumonia. But although the Hardest-working Man In Showbiz has clocked off, the legend lives on.

Important Dates In The Life Of James Brown:

On this day in music
29 Mar 2023
American bassist Sweet Charles Sherrell died at his home in The Netherlands age 80. Sherrell began his career playing drums with fellow Nashville residents Jimi Hendrix and Billy Cox. He learned to play the guitar by washing the car (a Jaguar) of Curtis Mayfield in exchange for guitar lessons. He was known for recording and performing with James Brown from 1973 to 1996.
3 Dec 2021
American drummer Melvin Parker died. He and his brother, saxophonist Maceo Parker, were key members of James Brown's band. Parker was the drummer on three of Brown's recordings: ‘Out of Sight,’ ‘Papa's Got A Brand New Bag,’ and ‘I Got You (I Feel Good).’
1 Oct 2019
American blues guitarist Beverly Watkins died age 80. She worked with artists like James Brown, B.B. King, and Ray Charles.
22 Dec 2012
Marva Whitney, nicknamed by collaborator James Brown "Soul Sister Number 1", died from complications from pneumonia. Whitney began her music career as a child, joining her family gospel group, the Manning Gospel Singers. She toured with James Brown in the late Sixties.
10 May 2010
New York City's Apollo Theatre began installing bronze plaques on the sidewalk outside the building of legends who had close ties to the theater. Among the first to be honored were James Brown, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and Ella Fitzgerald.
26 May 2009
A US judge ended a bitter two-year battle over the late soul singer James Brown's estate. Judge Jack Early ruled half of his assets will go to a charitable trust, a quarter to his wife and young son, and the rest to his six adult children. Brown's family and wife Tomi Rae Hynie Brown, had fought over his fortune since he died of heart failure in 2006.
5 Aug 2007
DNA testing on about a dozen people who claimed late soul star James Brown was their father revealed that at least two of them were telling the truth. A former adviser for the singer, Buddy Dallas, said he could not confirm exact figures, as further test results were forthcoming. His will, which was being disputed in court, named six children.
25 Dec 2006
James Brown the ‘Godfather of Soul’, died at the age of 73 after being diagnosed with severe pneumonia. Brown went to his dentist in Atlanta the previous day who told him something was wrong, and sent him to a doctor immediately. His hits included ‘Papa's Got a Brand New Bag’, ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’, and ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, Pt. 1’. Brown was married four times, at the age of 16, was arrested for theft and served 3 years in prison. In 1988, Brown was arrested following a high-speed car chase along the Georgia-South Carolina state border.
3 Sep 2004
Songwriter and producer Billy Davis died in New York after a long illness. He co-wrote Jackie Wilson's, ‘Reet Petite’ and the jingle ‘I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke.’ Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Gladys Knight all recorded his songs.
26 Mar 2004
Jan Berry of Jan and Dean, died at the age of 62, after being in poor health sustained in a 1966 car crash. Had the 1963 US No.1 & UK No.26 single 'Surf City', (co written by Beach Boy Brian Wilson). At the height of their fame, Jan and Dean hosted and performed at The T.A.M.I. Show, the film also featured The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.
18 Dec 2003
James Brown and country music star Loretta Lynn were honoured for their contributions to US culture. The pair were invited to a gala attended by President George Bush at the Kennedy Arts Centre in Washington.
23 Jul 2003
James Brown announced his separation from his fourth wife using an advertisement featuring the Disney character Goofy. The 70-year-old placed the notice in Variety magazine, it featured a picture of himself, his wife Tomi Rae and their two-year-old son, James Joseph Brown II, posing with Goofy at Walt Disney World.
20 May 2003
Soul singer James Brown was pardoned for his past crimes in the US state of South Carolina. Brown had served a two-and-a-half-year prison term after an arrest on drug and assault charges in 1988 was granted a pardon by the State Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. Brown, who appeared before the board, sang 'God Bless America' after the decision.
19 Sep 2002
James Brown was being sued by his own daughters for more than £650,000 of song royalties they said they were owed. Deanna Brown Thomas and Dr Yamma Brown Lumar, a Texas physician, said Brown had withheld royalties on 25 co-written songs because of a family grudge. The lawsuit claimed that Brown had held a grudge against his daughters since 1998, when Ms Thomas had her father committed to a psychiatric hospital to be treated for addiction to painkillers.
28 Apr 2000
A blaze swept through James Brown Enterprises, the office that co-ordinate the superstar's tours. Nobody was injured, but memorabilia and live tapes were destroyed in the blaze. An employee was later arrested charged with arson.
6 Oct 1998
A music industry poll was published by London Magazine 'Time Out', naming the top stars from the past 30 years. 5th place was Marvin Gaye, 4th; James Brown, 3rd; Bob Marley, 2nd; The Beatles and first place went to David Bowie
27 Jan 1998
James Brown was charged with possession of marijuana and unlawful use of a firearm after police were called to his South Carolina home. Brown later clamed the drugs were used to help his 'eyesight.'
19 Aug 1996
James Brown appeared in Montauk, New York, as part of his Back at the Ranch tour. Brown who had a history of beating his wife, offered money that was raised at the event to an anti-violence organization called The Retreat, but was turned down.
31 Oct 1995
James Brown was arrested in Aiken, South Carolina for assaulting his 47 year old wife, Adrienne, who said that her husband hit her with a mirror. Adrienne died in January, 1996 and the assault charges against James were dropped.
22 Mar 1994
American musician, singer, songwriter and record producer Dan Hartman died aged 43 of a brain tumor in Westport, Connecticut. He was a member of the Edgar Winter Group and wrote the band's hit ‘Free Ride.’ As a solo artists he had the 1978 No.1 dance hit ‘Instant Replay,’ and wrote ‘Relight My Fire’ a UK No.1 for Take That and Lulu and also co-wrote The James Brown song 'Living in America.’ Hartman collaborated with Tina Turner, Dusty Springfield, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Tyler, Paul Young, Living In A Box, Holly Johnson and Steve Winwood.
22 Dec 1991
James Brown launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against the producers of the movie The Commitments, claiming one of the characters too closely resembled him.
27 Feb 1991
James Brown was paroled after spending two years of a six-year prison sentence, imposed for resisting arrest after a car chase across two States.
19 Jul 1989
James Brown changed accommodations behind bars after $40000 in cash and cheques was discovered in his minimum security cell. The Godfather of Soul had been given a six year sentence the previous December after several run-ins with the law, including illegal gun possession, resisting arrest, assault and leading the authorities on a number of car chases. His new home was at a medium security cell at the Stevenson Correctional Institute.
15 Dec 1988
Soul singer James Brown was sentenced to six years in prison for various offences including possession of weapons and resisting arrest.
24 Sep 1988
James Brown led police on an hour-long, two-state car chase starting in Augusta, Georgia. Brown was later arrested and eventually served six years for a variety of charges including carrying a deadly weapon at a public gathering, attempting to flee police, and driving under the influence of drugs.
19 May 1988
James Brown was arrested for the fifth time in 12 months, following a car chase near his home, he was charged with assault, resisting arrest and being in charge of illegal weapons, he was given a 6 year jail sentence.
18 Dec 1983
American guitarist Jimmy Nolen, died of a heart attack in Atlanta, Georgia, aged 47. Known for his distinctive ‘chicken scratch’ lead guitar playing, he worked with James Brown from 1965 until his death.
11 Dec 1972
James Brown was arrested after show in Tennessee for trying to incite a riot. Brown threatened to sue the city for $1m, the charges were later dropped.
12 Mar 1970
James Brown's backing band The J.B.'s were formed after most of the members of his previous band walked out on him over a pay dispute. The J.B.'s initial lineup included bassist William "Bootsy" Collins and his guitarist brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins, formerly of the obscure funk band The Pacemakers.
22 Sep 1969
A new weekly TV show 'The Music Scene' aired on ABC in the US for the first time. Stevie Wonder, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Tom Jones, Cass Elliot, James Brown, Janis Joplin and Sly and the Family Stone were all booked to appear on the show.
26 May 1968
US blues artist Little Willie John died in prison after being convicted of manslaughter. Co-wrote and was the first to record a 'Fever' (covered by Peggy Lee in 1958), and 'Need Your Love So Bad' covered by Fleetwood Mac. James Brown recorded a tribute album 'Thinking Of Little Willie John... And A Few Other Nice Things'.
2 Feb 1967
The Jimi Hendrix Experience appeared at the Blue Pad Club in Darlington, England which was part of the Imperial Hotel Complex on Grange Road. The show was advertised as "Don't miss this man who is Dylan, Clapton, and James Brown all in one". After the show, as the roadies were loading up a van, one of Hendrix's Fender guitars was stolen.
11 Mar 1966
This week's ITV music show 'Ready Steady Go', shown in the UK was entirely devoted to the music of 'The Godfather Of Soul - James Brown.
17 Jul 1965
King Records released 'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag' by James Brown, which went on to sell over 2 million copies and receive the Grammy Award for best for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording. 'Papa's Got a Brand New Bag' is considered seminal in the emergence of funk music as a distinct style.
19 Apr 1965
The film T.A.M.I. (Teen-Age Music International) Show featuring The Rolling Stones, Supremes, Four Tops, James Brown, The Beach Boys and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles opened in London, England under the title Teenage Command Performance.
1 Feb 1965
At the Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte, North Carolina, James Brown recorded 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag', which will reach No.8 on the Billboard Pop chart and No.1 on the R&B chart the following August and later win a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording.
6 Jul 1963
James Brown went to No.2 on the US album chart with 'Live At The Apollo'. Recorded on the night of October 24, 1962 at Brown's own expense, it spent 66 weeks on the Billboard Albums chart. In 2003, the album was ranked No.24 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
24 Oct 1962
US Soul singer James Brown recorded his legendary 'Live At The Apollo' album. The album was listed at No.24 in Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
10 Dec 1961
James Brown, The Famous Flames, Sugar Pie DeSanto and The Brownies all appeared at The Evergreen Ballroom, Lacey, Washington.
1 Nov 1955
R&B group The Famous Flames, lead by singer James Brown, cut their first demo of ‘Please, Please, Please’ at a radio station in Macon Georgia. It would lead to their signing with King Records.
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. chris djeniko

    May 24, 2020 at 5:52 am

    Why does wealth get many of these famous musicians and actors down? No godly direction. It’s all about enjoyment which is about food, drinking, sex, drugs. Over indulgence and ilegal activities are negatives. Godly ways are the hard work ethics, cultivating these fine qualities of love, goodness, faith, generosity, forgiving, caring, mildness, self control, kindness, patience, peace. There are other fine qualities not mentioned but there is no law against these qualities.
    Ungodliness will push them to have these ugly qualities like sexual immorality, uncleanness, brazen conduct, idolatry, spiritism, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, sects, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and things like these. There are laws against these qualities.

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