ATLANTA — James Brown, the undeniable “Godfather of Soul,” told friends from his hospital bed that he was looking forward to performing on New Year’s Eve, even though he was ill with pneumonia. His heart gave out a few hours later, on Christmas morning.
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The pompadoured dynamo whose classic singles include “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)” died Monday of heart failure, said his agent, Frank Copsidas of Intrigue Music.
“People already know his history, but I would like for them to know he was a man who preached love from the stage,” said friend Charles Bobbit, who was with Brown at the hospital. “His thing was ‘I never saw a person that I didn’t love.’ He was a true humanitarian who loved his country.”
The entertainer with the rough-edged voice and flashy footwork also had diabetes and prostate cancer that was in remission, Bobbit said. Brown initially seemed fine at the hospital, Copsidas said. Three days before his death, he had participated in his annual toy giveaway in Augusta, and he was looking forward to his New Year’s Eve show.
“Last night, he said ‘I’m going to be there. I’m the hardest working man in show business,”’ Copsidas said Monday.
‘James Brown changed music’
One of the major musical influences of the past 50 years, Brown was to rhythm and dance music what Bob Dylan was to lyrics. From Mick Jagger to Michael Jackson, David Bowie to Public Enemy, his rapid-footed dancing, hard-charging beats and heartfelt yet often unintelligible vocals changed the musical landscape.
He was one of the first artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and other founding fathers.
“He was an innovator, he was an emancipator, he was an originator. Rap music, all that stuff came from James Brown,” entertainer Little Richard, a longtime friend of Brown’s, told MSNBC.
“James Brown changed music,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, who toured with Brown in the 1970s and imitates his hairstyle to this day.
“He made soul music a world music,” Sharpton said. “What James Brown was to music in terms of soul and hip-hop, rap, all of that, is what Bach was to classical music. This is a guy who literally changed the music industry. He put everybody on a different beat, a different style of music. He pioneered it.”
Brown won a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1992, as well as Grammys in 1965 for “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (best R&B recording) and for “Living In America” in 1987 (best R&B vocal performance, male.)
He even had a brief but memorable role on the big screen as a manic preacher in the 1980’s movie “The Blues Brothers.”
‘Dramatic to the end’
Brown, who lived in Beech Island, S.C., near the Georgia line, had a turbulent personal life that included charges of abusing drugs and alcohol. After a widely publicized, drug-fueled confrontation with police in 1988 that ended in an interstate car chase, Brown spent 15 months in a South Carolina prison and 10 months in a work release program.
From the 1950s, when Brown had his first R&B hit, “Please, Please, Please” in 1956, through the mid-1970s, Brown went on a frenzy of cross-country tours, concerts and new songs. He earned the nickname “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” and often tried to prove it to his fans, said Jay Ross, his lawyer of 15 years.
Brown’s stage act was as memorable, and as imitated, as his records, with his twirls and spins and flowing cape, his repeated faints to the floor at the end.
“He was dramatic to the end — dying on Christmas Day,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a friend of Brown’s since 1955. “Almost a dramatic, poetic moment. He’ll be all over the news all over the world today. He would have it no other way.”
‘There has been no one near as funky’
His “Live at The Apollo” in 1962 is widely considered one of the greatest concert records ever. He often talked of a 1964 concert in which organizers made the mistake of having the Rolling Stones, not him, close the bill, remembering Mick Jagger waiting offstage, nervously chain smoking, as he pulled off his matchless show.
“To this day, there has been no one near as funky. No one’s coming even close,” rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy once told the AP.
Brown routinely lost two or three pounds each time he performed and kept his furious concert schedule in his later years even as he fought prostate cancer, Ross said.
With his tight pants, eye makeup and outrageous hair, Brown set the stage for younger stars such as Michael Jackson and Prince. And the early rap generation overwhelmingly sampled his music and voice as they laid the foundation of hip-hop culture.
“Disco is James Brown, hip-hop is James Brown, rap is James Brown; you know what I’m saying? You hear all the rappers, 90 percent of their music is me,” Brown told The AP in 2003.
Born in poverty in Barnwell, S.C., in 1933, Brown was abandoned as a 4 year old to the care of relatives and friends. He grew up on the streets of Augusta, Ga., in an “ill-repute area,” as he once called it, learning how to hustle to survive.
By the eighth grade in 1949, Brown had served 3½ years in reform school for breaking into cars. While there, he met Bobby Byrd, whose family took Brown into their home. Byrd also took Brown into his group, the Gospel Starlighters. Soon they changed their name to the Famous Flames and their style to hard R&B.
In January 1956, King Records of Cincinnati signed the group, and four months later “Please, Please, Please” was in the R&B Top Ten.
Brown is survived by his fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, one of his backup singers, and at least four children — two daughters and sons Daryl and James Brown II, Copsidas said.
Memorial plans were incomplete, Copsidas said.
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