James Brown closed his act as no one before or since. He’d give so much of himself, work himself so hard, that he appeared to finally collapse from exhaustion. An assistant would come with a cape, and lead Brown offstage as The Famous Flames continued playing. Then the singer would shrug off the cape and do a series of encores.
He probably had more nicknames (mostly self-proclaimed) than anyone in music history. He was “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” He was “Soul Brother Number One.” He was “Mr. Dynamite.” He was “The King of Funk.” And, probably most appropriate of all, he was “The Godfather of Soul.”
Brown was one of the first black entertainers to consciously work to draw young white audiences. He did it with some of the greatest songs of the sixties and early seventies, including six that made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “Please, Please, Please,” “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.”
He got in trouble with the law in the nineties, and served three years in prison for drug and driving offenses. And he was arrested several times on domestic abuse charges. This is a good time to remember that not every person named a “Great American Thing” lived an exemplary life. But James Brown’s music and performances are so legendary and influential – he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s (Great American Things No: 145) initial class, and he’s number seven in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time – that he definitely earned his place on this list.
Now, watch this dancing – Michael Jackson only hoped he could be this smooth: