James Brown, Soul Brother Number One

James Brown’s influence was universal. Singers, songwriters, dancers and musicians gleaned from the constant showman who was able to evoke pride, sadness or a party atmosphere at the drop of his cape.

Brown was one of the first soul singers to make being Black popular in the mainstream with the anthem “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud.” His influence has been widespread since his first hit in 1956, “Please, Please, Please.” Brown made it ok to display the over-the-top splendor of the Black performer. The music was loud, the dancing was frantic, and the music was gospel-laden but definitely secular. He was a show starter and showstopper, who seemed to faint onstage at his own tireless dancing, only to restart in a fury of movements that rivaled no one.

Entertainers who have followed the path of Soul music have a little James Brown in them. We spoke with some of our artistic friends about how James Brown impacted their style, and how he will be missed as an innovator.

Anthony Hamilton: James Brown is to Soul Music what paint is to art. Through his music, he made Black look good! It felt fly. Now that his music is sampled all over the world, we’ve caught on to just how broad an appeal his music had. Now my kids can experience this mighty funk, this royal soul. I appreciate that. He definitely gave my music more swagger and a slant to my diction. “Ya’ll know wha I’m tal in bout”. “This A Man’s World”…. such an important song to me. James, you will be heard. “Give em a Funky Good Time in Hea um.” [Heaven]. Thanks James.

Eric Roberson: I remember as a little kid sitting with headphones on for hours just studying James Brown. It’s easier to list who he didn’t influence. His artistry stretched over all genres of music and dance. An unmatched voice, the slickest moves, a revolutionary message and sound, a well-rehearsed band, and a nonstop tour schedule for over 40 years… How can he not be crowned the greatest?

Not to mention he is one of the foundations of Hip-Hop. Without him the aggression in Hip-Hop that helped top rock & roll and punk music would have not existed. Clearly remove his samples, and where would Hip-Hop and today’s R&B be? Simply put, he was the greatest.

Kem: James Brown is Soul Music. The Original Funk Master. Incredible work ethic.

It’s amazing how he continued to work into his seventies. A great loss to the music business and the world. On a more personal note…we’ve also lost Ed Bradley and Gerald Levert this year. I think we need to pull together as Black men and start taking better care of ourselves…emotionally, spiritually and physically. We’ve been leaving here too early for too long.

Asha Kamali (choreographer): Though I’m not a musician, James Brown as an entertainer and performer has had great influence on me as a dancer and especially as a choreographer. He made his performance look effortless and seamless, which is something we as choreographers strive to do. He was an originator in dance and the art of the performance.

Before Michael, before Janet, before Usher, before them all; there was James Brown. He was a master entertainer and a fabulous dancer. He was performing footwork, jazz dance and ballet “turn-out” with his feet, before anyone else in music. He merged classical stage dance with contemporary “street” style that is the formula that the Ciara’s, and Chris Brown’s use today. It was genius, he was genius.

My favorite James Brown song is a tie between “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “This Is A Man’s World.” “Black and Proud” is such a feel good song; it gave us depth and unassuming pride as a people. It makes me feel like I can do anything, be anyone. “This Is A Man’s World” is one of those classic songs that take you somewhere else, the soul in this song will never be duplicated.

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