Who can think of James Brown without recalling his iconic hairstyle and legendary dance moves. Before succumbing to congestive heart failure on Dec. 25, 2006, the Godfather of Soul sold millions of records, topping R&B charts.
Brown liked to say, "I’m the hardest working man in show business, and I’m not going to let them down.” Indeed, he had planned a New Year's Eve performance at B.B. King's New York nightclub before his untimely death.
His early years were extremely difficult. James Joe Brown Jr. was born on May 3, 1933, in a one-room shack in Barnwell, South Carolina. He later moved to Georgia, where he lived with an aunt who ran a brothel. And because he grew up during the Depression, Brown lived an impoverished existence, doing any job he could get literally for pennies. Still, he said, "I knew I had to make it. I had the determination to go on, and my determination was to be somebody."
Before becoming "somebody," Brown was incarcerated for stealing a car. It may have been one of the best things that ever happened to him because it was in prison that he organized a gospel choir and met future R&V singer and pianist Bobby Byrd, with whom he later partnered professionally.
A fastidious performer, Brown also became an activist, urging African-Americans to make education a bigger priority and recording the song "Don't Be a Dropout." When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, he performed a concert in Boston to prevent rioting, and later recorded "Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud."
In 1986, Brown was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Despite great professional success, however, King's personal life was filled with turbulence, including drug addiction, multiple marriages and another stint in prison. Nonetheless, several superstars, from Michael Jackson to Jay Z, have cited him as a major influence.
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(Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
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