This Day in Black History: May 3, 1933

James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul," was born. 

Posted: 05/03/2014 12:00 AM EDT

Singer James Brown, known as "The Godfather of Soul" for his game-changing style in funk, soul and R&B throughout his career, was born on May, 3, 1933, in Barnwell, South Carolina. Brown has charted on the Billboard Pop Charts close to 100 times and on the R&B charts at least 110 times.

Born into poverty, Brown got his start performing for soldiers to make money. He also worked other odd jobs including picking cotton. He was dismissed from school when he was 12 for not having proper clothes and found refuge in church, joining the choir. Brown spent three years in prison after stealing a car when he was 16. While there, he formed and led a prison choir. 

After meeting musician and singer Bobby Byrd, he joined his group the Gospel Starlighters. It was later renamed the Famous Flames. Brown's showmanship brought him to the forefront of the group and he soon scored his first hit, "Please, Please, Please." He later recorded a song called "Try Me," which reached the no. 1 spot on the R&B Charts. 

In time, Brown became known as the hardest working man in show business as he performed five or six nights a week in the 1950s and 1960s. He was also known for fining his singers if they missed a note and telling them to improvise on the spot during live shows.

He also recorded several songs about social activism. One song, "Don't Be a Dropout," recorded in 1966, asked the Black community to put more of an emphasis on their education. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., he recorded "Say It Loud: I'm Black and I'm Proud."

Brown's work has inspired generations of musicians including Michael Jackson and Prince and has been sampled by a plethora of contemporary artists at least 3,000 times, according to WhoSampled.com.  

The soul legend died at the age of 73 on Dec. 25, 2006, after suffering from pneumonia. 

Follow Natelege Whaley on Twitter: @Natelege

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