James Joseph Brown (1933 – 2006) was an American singer, songwriter, dancer, musician, record producer and bandleader. James Brown was born to Joe Brown and Susie Behling, an impoverished couple living in Barnwell, South Carolina. When James was four, his mother left. Joe looked after James, although when he had “road work or picked vegetables on a farm”, James would be cared by “aunts or one of Joe’s girlfriends”.
In the late 1930s (it’s not clear if it was 1938 or 1939), Joe, James and Joe’s aunt, Minnie Walker, walked 72km north-west to Augusta, Georgia. Initially the three moved into a house with relatives in a neighbourhood called ‘the Terry’ which housed 30% of Augusta’s black population. But when he was about nine, James was left with Aunt Honey who beat her nephew. In 1949, when he was sixteen, James Brown was arrested for stealing cars. Without legal representation, the boy was sentenced to between 8 and 16 years of incarceration, but only served three years. He was initially remanded to an adult prison but later shifted to the Alto Reform School. It was in reform school that Brown formed a gospel which he later secularized and called the Flames. Little Richard spruiked the group and Brown’s first recording “Please, Please, Please” in 1956, and Brown’s career was on its way.
James Brown went on to become known as the Godfather of Soul. His recordings during the 1960s were associated with the civil rights movement and during the 1980s he appeared in several films.