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James Joseph Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and recording artist. He is one of the founding fathers of funk music and is a major figure of 20th century popular music and dance. In a career that spanned six decades, Brown profoundly influenced the development of many different musical genres. Brown moved on a continuum of blues and gospel-based forms and styles to a profoundly "Africanized" approach to music making. First coming to national public attention in the mid-1950s as a member of the R&B singing group The Famous Flames, Brown performed in concerts, first making his rounds across the chitlin' circuit, and then across the country and later around the world, along with appearing in shows on television and in movies. Although he contributed much to the music world through his hitmaking, Brown holds the record as the artist who charted the most singles on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever hitting number one on that chart.
For many years, Brown's touring show was one of the most extravagant productions in American popular music. At the time of Brown's death, his band included three guitarists, two bass guitar players, two drummers, three horns and a percussionist. The bands that he maintained during the late 1960s and 1970s were of comparable size, and the bands also included a three-piece amplified string section that played during ballads. Brown employed between 40 and 50 people for the James Brown Revue, and members of the revue traveled with him in a bus to cities and towns all over the country, performing upwards of 330 shows a year with almost all of the shows as one-nighters. In 1986, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2000 into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is ranked seventh on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time."
By 1954, Brown had tried to get a record deal with his gospel group, the Ever Ready Gospel Singers after recording a version of "His Eye Is on the Sparrow", but returned to Toccoa when that failed. Subsequently, his friend Bobby Byrd asked Brown to join his R&B group, the Avons. There Brown replaced another vocalist, Troy Collins, who had died in a car crash. The group, with Byrd, Brown, Sylvester Keels, Doyle Oglesby, Fred Pulliam, and Johnny Terry, modeled themselves after R&B groups of the day such as The Orioles, The Five Keys, and Billy Ward and His Dominoes. While touring Georgia and South Carolina, they again changed their name to the Toccoa Band to avoid confusion with two other groups also named Avons. During this time, Brown recruited guitarist Nafloyd Scott and added percussionists to the group.
Subsequently the group changed its name again, now becoming The Flames. This line-up, while performing in Macon, Georgia attracted the attention of promoter, Clint Brantley (then agent of Brown's idol, Little Richard), who suggested they add "Famous" to their name. It was during this time that the group began performing original composition including Brown's "Goin' Back to Rome" and a ballad Brown co-wrote with Terry titled "Please, Please, Please". After Little Richard left Macon for Los Angeles, Brantley booked the band for all the venues where Richard had performed, thus boosting the group's fame. Before Christmas 1955, Brantley had them record a demo of "Please, Please, Please" for a local Macon radio station. Based on two accounts, "Please, Please, Please" was inspired as follows: Etta James stated that during her first meeting with Brown in Macon, Brown "used to carry around an old tattered napkin with him, because Little Richard had written the words, 'please, please, please' on it and James was determined to make a song out of it..."; the remainder of the song materialized after the group heard The Orioles' rock 'n' roll version of Big Joe Williams' hit, "Baby Please Don't Go", adapting its melody.
Federal Records president Ralph Bass signed the Famous Flames to his label in February 1956 and let them record the song in Cincinnati's King Studios. Released the following March, it became the Famous Flames' first R&B hit, selling over a million copies. Despite the song's success, other songs such as "I Don't Know", "No No No", "Just Won't Do Right", and "Chonnie-On-Chon" failed to chart.
By March 1957, a full year after the release of "Please, Please, Please", most members of the Famous Flames had left after the group's new manager, Universal Attractions Agency Chief Ben Bart, insisted that the group's billing be "James Brown and The Famous Flames". After Little Richard left show business for the ministry, Brown was asked to fill in for him. This resulted not only in greater popular exposure but also led to the recruitment of members of The Dominions. However, the first single, "That Dood It", failed to chart, and in late 1958, Brown financed the demo of the ballad, "Try Me". Released that October, it returned the Famous Flames to the charts and reached No. 1 on the R&B chart in February 1959 becoming the first of 17 chart-topping hits on the R&B chart.
Bolstered by this success, Brown recruited a new band that consisted of saxophonist J. C. Davis, guitarist Bobby Roach, bassist Bernard Odum, trumpeter Roscoe Patrick, saxophonist Albert Corley, drummer Nat Kendrick and his old band mate Bobby Byrd, who had rejoined Brown's band on organ. This resulted in the next Brown hit, "I Want You So Bad", which peaked in the Top 20 on the Billboard R&B chart. The newly hailed "James Brown Band" debuted at the Apollo Theater on April 24, 1959, opening for Little Willie John. Following his dismissal of the 1957–58 Famous Flames lineup, he hired "Baby" Lloyd Stallworth and Bobby Bennett as replacements with Byrd and Johnny Terry returning as members. The lineup of Brown,Byrd, Bennett, Stallworth, and Terry proved to be the permanent and longest-lasting Famous Flames lineup. The confusion concerning the Famous Flames singing group in the eyes of the public was that, for years, the Famous Flames were often mistaken for, and confused with, Brown's backing band; fellow Famous Flame Byrd was also a member of the backing band at one point. Initially a vocal and instrumental group, the Famous Flames, after signing with Federal, developed into a straight vocal group, a separate entity from the James Brown Band. In early 1960, Brown's band recorded the top ten R&B hit, "(Do the) Mashed Potatoes" on Dade Records, owned by Henry Stone, under the pseudonym "Nat Kendrick & The Swans" because Brown's label refused to release it. As a result of this, Syd Nathan decided to shift Brown's contract from Federal to Federal's parent label, King Records.