Legendary godfather

December 27, 2006

He was known as the "godfather of soul," among other titles, but James Brown, the legendary singer and showman who died Christmas day at the age of 73, was more than a soul or rhythm and blues artist. He was an edgy, flashy performer with crossover appeal and extensive musical influence.

Mr. Brown's start was in gospel, after a stint in reform school. His music was defined by pulsing beats and high-powered rhythms. Some of his hits offered timely messages, such as "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud"; others, like "I Got You (I Feel Good)," put a contemporary, toe-tapping spin to timeless themes.

With his signature capes and fancy dance moves - including spins and splits that often seemed to defy gravity as well as his age - he was a tireless showman. Calling himself "the hardest-working man in show business," the singer, composer and bandleader was also constantly on the road giving live concerts. He worked with musicians who were steeped in jazz and improvisation and his musical talents influenced funk, disco, rap and hip-hop. During a career that spanned five decades, he earned three Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award in 1992. And he was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

Over the years, Mr. Brown had some personal troubles, including drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and unpaid taxes, that didn't sink his career, but somewhat stained his image. In the late 1980s, while under the influence of drugs, he intimidated people at a public gathering before leading police on an interstate car chase. He spent more than two years in prison and a work release program. Earlier in his career, Baltimore gave him some trouble by banning his performances in the mid-1960s for possibly inciting riots. In the 1970s, he spent two nights in the City Jail on a contempt charge related to his ownership of a radio station that faced serious financial troubles.

Whatever his woes or demons, they seemed to disappear once Mr. Brown stepped onstage. He was, first and foremost, a consummate entertainer.

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