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James Brown Make It Funky Album Cover

The word 'legend' is used far too easily, but James Brown, who passed away from pneumonia in Atlanta, Georgia on Christmas Day, 2006, was unquestionably that.

'The Godfather Of Soul', James Brown was one of the all-time great singers, a gifted songwriter and inspirational bandleader. Born in poverty in Barnwell, South Carolina, on May 3rd, 1933, Brown began entertaining as a small boy, and could be said to be the inventor of funk.

A friendship with gospel group leader, Bobby Byrd, in the 1950s, led to the two singing together in The Gospel Starlighters. Inspired by seeing Fats Domino, Brown and Byrd's group evolved into The Famous Flames, and after catching the ear of producer Ralph Bass with 'Please, Please, Please', he signed them to the Cincinnati-based King Records. They recorded the song in Ohio, and had their first R&B top 10 hit in 1956. A couple of unsuccessful years followed, until 'Try Me' reached number one in the US R&B chart.

Brown's legend was really cemented with his live solo album, 'Live At The Apollo', which was released in 1963, and reached number two in the Billboard albums chart. The 1960s were a great decade for Brown, with the memorable 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag', 'I Got You (I Feel Good)', and 'It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World'. Brown was also a man who had musicians with flair around him, with his backing band The JB's, which included the then unknown flamboyant bassist, Bootsy Collins. Brown and The JB's first record, in 1970, was the outrageously raunchy '(Get Up I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine'. James Brown was not a man who forgot where he came from either, helping artists from underprivileged backgrounds, and being right at the forefront of the 1960s social revolution, defending the rights of minorities. 'Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud' being a good musical example of where James Brown was at.

James Brown's frenzied stage performances, belief in hard work - living up to the self-titled 'Hardest Working Man In Show Business' - and his musical innovation, made him a legend, and he had around 100 hit records in the US alone. James Brown also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, and was the closing act at the very last Live 8 concert, in Edinburgh, in 2005. Certainly a Jekyll and Hyde character, having several scrapes with the law in his lifetime, Brown lived up to his 'Mr. Dynamite' epithet - on and off the stage.

- Paul Rance/

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