ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- James Brown, the legendary R&B belter, a singer and songwriter who created a foundation for funk and provided the roots of rap, a man of many nicknames but a talent that can only be described as one of a kind, is dead.
Brown died early Monday at Atlanta's Emory Crawford Long Hospital of congestive heart failure, his agent said. He was 73.
"The most difficult thing is for me to stand here without him. We were a team," Charles Bobbit, Brown's personal manager, told reporters Monday.
Pausing to fight back tears, Bobbit said he was at Brown's bedside when he died.Brown told him, "I'm going away tonight." Then he took three long, quiet breaths, and closed his eyes, Bobbit said.
Brown was in Atlanta for a dental appointment when he fell ill and was admitted to the hospital over the weekend for pneumonia.
"It appears what happened is that he did die of a heart attack as a result of his pneumonia," the singer's agent Frank Copsidas told CNN Radio.
Brown -- known variously as "the Godfather of Soul," "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," "Soul Brother Number One" and "Mr. Dynamite" (and often introduced as all of the above) -- was known for his elastic dance moves, razor-sharp musicianship and all-stops-out performances.
He was, literally, an impossible act to follow: The Rolling Stones were said to have been terrified to come on after Brown in "The T.A.M.I. Show," a 1964 concert that appeared on film the next year. ("Nobody could follow me," Brown told "T.A.M.I. Show" director Steve Binder, according to a Los Angeles Times article.) Brown's performance in that show even earned an ovation from the
"You have the Rolling Stones on the same stage, all of the important rock acts of the day, doing their best -- and James Brown comes out and destroys them," producer Rick Rubin wrote in Rolling Stone. (i-Report: Your thoughts on James Brown)
His influence was broad and deep. He was a soul innovator, bringing a churchy rawness to R&B with his early hits "Please, Please, Please" and "Think." He essentially created funk with mid-'60s songs such as "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Cold Sweat." His grooves were sampled by
rappers and hip-hop artists. (Gallery: James Brown through the years)
He was tough on his own backing band, the Famous Flames -- which included saxophonist Maceo Parker, guitarist Jimmy Nolen and drummer Clyde Stubblefield - famously fining them if they missed a cue. They even walked out on him in 1969; Brown simply recruited a new band, which included bassist Bootsy Collins.
(Many of the Flames later returned; they were renamed the J.B.'s.)
He provided the ground that much of black music -- much of pop music -- stands
on. (Story: James Brown's greatest hits)
"James presented obviously the best grooves," rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy
once told The Associated Press. "To this day, there has been no one near as
funky. No one's coming even close." (Watch "The Hardest Working Man in Show
Business" do his thing Video)
Despite much-publicized personal problems that included a rap sheet and drug
troubles, he also was a community leader. In the 1960s, he was a voice for calm
during a period of urban riots; J. Anthony Lukas' book on Boston race relations,
"Common Ground," notes that a 1968 Brown performance the day after the Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination helped keep the Massachusetts city from
Later, dismayed by the school shootings of the late '90s, he spoke out against
violence in schools, even writing a song, "Killing's Out and School's In."
"We need to protect the kids by giving them something to do," Brown told CNN in
2001. "[It's about] making them interested, making them love mom and dad more,
love the family more, love themselves more and love their school. So there won't
have to be killing in school."
James Brown was born on May 3, 1933, in Barnwell, South Carolina. His early
years were rough. Abandoned by his immediate family, he was taken in by friends
and relatives and grew up in an "ill-repute area" of Augusta, Georgia, he once
said. He shined shoes and danced for change, and he also served time in a reform
school for breaking into cars, rescued by the family of friend Bobby Byrd.
Byrd invited Brown to join his group, the Gospel Starlighters, which later
changed its name to the Flames and then the Famous Flames. The group was signed
to King Records and released its song "Please, Please, Please" in early 1956.
The song hit the R&B Top 10 and the group worked it hard, touring the "chitlin
circuit" -- as the series of African-American clubs and theaters was called --
"What made Brown succeed where hundreds of others failed was his superhuman
determination, working the chitlin circuit to death, sharpening his band, and
keeping an eye on new trends," Richie Unterberger wrote on Allmusic.com.
A second hit, "Try Me," gave the group staying power, and from there it was hit
after hit: "Think," "This Old Heart," "Bewildered," "Lost Someone," "Night
Train," "Prisoner of Love." Brown eventually scored more than 50 Top 10 hits on
the R&B charts. Seventeen hit No. 1.
Despite the occasional pop hit, crossover stardom eluded him until 1963, when
"Live at the Apollo" -- still considered one of the great live albums of all
time -- hit No. 2 on Billboard's album chart. In 1965, Brown hit the pop Top 10
with the groundbreaking "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," a song that incorporated
the intricate start-and-stop rhythms that would come to define funk, and his
mainstream stardom was sealed.
Brown's music was bold: 1968's "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" was a
defiant statement of black pride; 1970's "Get Up (I Feel Like Being Like A) Sex
Machine" was blatantly sexual; 1971's "Hot Pants" leering. His sound was unlike
anything on the charts and was copied by many artists, including Sly and the
Family Stone and Parliament -- who, in turn, gave it their own spin.
Influence on disco, hip-hop, rap
Brown went into eclipse in the mid-'70s. His 1974 song "The Payback" was his
last Top 40 hit for 11 years, and even his appearances on the R&B/black music
charts were irregular. He returned to the Top 10 with "Living in America," the
theme from "Rocky IV," in 1985, but it was his last hurrah on the pop chart.
Brown also was plagued by personal problems. In the late '80s he was in the news
for being accused of assault and battery by his then-wife. In 1988, high on PCP,
he led police on a chase through two states before officers shot out the tires
of his truck. He received a six-year prison sentence, serving 15 months in
prison and 10 months in a work release program before being paroled in 1991,
according to the AP.
But his musical influence was undeniable. He was part of the first group of
artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He won Grammys for
"Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "Living in America." He received a Kennedy
Center honor in 2003.
He knew what he'd accomplished.
"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," he told
the AP in 2003.
Brown's traditional performance close -- wailing, falling to his knees, being
covered with a cape, led almost off stage, still singing quietly, only to rise
again, returned to the center, bringing the screaming crowd to its feet -- is
indelible. It suggested nothing short of a life force, one that lives on in his
Which was what James Brown hoped for.
"I would like to pass on the want to do something," he told CNN in 2000. "The
need is there. Good lyrics are good things, but I would like to pass on that
drive, that vigorous undying determination."
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