- Callum Walmsley
Get Up Offa That Thing: How James Brown Inspired a Generation
There are very few artists who are able to influence the music industry in the way in which the ‘Godfather of Soul’ was able to. Brown, much like the shows in which he was renown for performing, explosively entered the world of show business in 1956 with ‘Please, Please, Please’, released with the group the Famous Flames, and he would remain one of the most influential people in music for the next six decades until his death in 2006.
Born and raised in poverty deep in the south of the United States, Brown was shaped by a number of significant influences in his early life. Growing up black in the deep south and with no money to his name Brown was no stranger to misfortune. Raised in a brothel by his Aunt and kicked out of school aged twelve due his inability to afford satisfactory clothing, the church was one of the few welcoming places available. Brown developed his musical ability with the help of the religious community of Augusta, Georgia. Despite a run in with the law which resulted in Brown serving jail time, something which would later inspire him to become involved in political activism, The Godfather of Soul was able to transfer the emotion he sang with in the gospel choirs to a new brand of Music, a brand of music in which Brown undoubtedly shaped for decades to come, funk and soul.
During the late 1950’s Brown began to perform tirelessly, moving from town to town every night and rarely taking time off. His incredible work ethic combined with his enthusiastic performances earned him the title of ‘The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business’. Never one to disappoint Brown quickly earned a reputation for his thrilling, energetic and passionate performances which left crowds mesmerised and always wanting more.
The gospel inspired emotion present within Browns powerful voice had earned him a reputation as one of the best soul singers around, but what made Brown truly unique was his ability to interchange this soul into funk. Browns voice was complimented by the new wave of jazz influenced rhythms available to him for his songs and there were few musicians who could match Browns showmanship and stamina on stage. Brown adopted this new genre of ‘funk’ and made it his own, as a flawless dancer who perfected every move in rhythm with the music he performed he could match the high-tempo funk required to be successful. Brown was quickly becoming the most exciting artist around and it wasn’t long before the ‘Hardest Working-Man in Show Business’ was a household name, and Browns popularity only grew as the 1960’s came into full swing.
Civil rights became a pressing issue within American domestic politics and the hardships African Americans suffered everyday were slowly being recognised. Within all the political tension Brown played a crucial role in influencing politics through his music and his support for Martin Luther King. One of Brown's most famous quotes is "The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing”. A strong supporter of MLK’s non-violent method of fighting oppression,
Brown believed that he could inspire angry African American youths through his performances popular music, I Got You (I Feel Good) (1964) and Papa’s got a Brand New Bag (1966) are just a few examples of his catalogue of instantly recognisable hits. Browns firsts showing off political activism would be to accompany King, and many other influential players in the African American community, in the “March Against Fear”, in support of James Meredith who was shot dead after becoming the first African American student accepted into the University of Mississippi. Education was something Brown felt very passionately about and Brown expressed this through his music, releasing songs such “Don’t be a Drop Out” which encouraged young people to complete their education. Brown’s belief in community is something which shaped his music and helped to helped to bridge the gap between a heavily divided nation, something which should never go unappreciated.
After his death in 2006 hundreds of musicians, politicians and various other stars gathered to remember a man who played such a pivotal role in the world we live in today. Whether it was through his music or his political activism Brown was able to influence the lives of millions and the cultural icon will always be remembered for what he was, a true innovator of music and an invaluable member of the creative industry.