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World News

James Brown, 1933-2006
Published December 29, 2006

By Dean Budnick

The Godfather of Soul, age 73, passed away early Christmas morning of heart failure.

In the documentary film Bittersweet Motel, Phish jokingly characterized a particular performance as "almost as funky as James Brown on his worst night." Indeed, Brown, who passed away on Christmas day, in his native Georgia looms large and a master showman and progenitor of funk. Physicians diagnosed "Soul Brother Number One" with pneumonia just few days ago.

Brown, had been recording and performing for nearly a decade when his 1963 Live at the Apollo release cemented his reputation as a vital if occasionally volatile R&B artist. His hard-edged jazz-fueled soul eventually became the blueprint for funk, defined as his signature sound in the 1970's. Brown's appeal crossed demographics and traditional genres as songs such as "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)," "Cold Sweat (Part 1)" and "Get On the Good Foot" garnered significant airplay in multiple formats. The "Godfather of Soul," who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with its inaugural class, performed with a flair and panache that earned him the respect of from artists and audiences alike, while he toured with such top notch sidemen as: Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Clyde Stubblefield, Jabo Starks, and Bootsy Collins.

Brown remained a feisty individualist throughout his personal and professional life. He preferred to be addressed as Mr. Brown and in a moment that appears on the film 270 Miles From Graceland, he castigates Relix/Jambands.com reporter Jeff Waful, who had referred to him as James during a press conference.

One of Brown's other sobriquets was the "Hardest-Working Man in Show Business," so it is not surprising that from his hospital bed, he had pledged to perform as scheduled in New York City's Times Square on New Year's Eve. His body will be at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem for public viewing on Friday December 29 before it is returned to Augusta, Georgia for a second public viewing and a private ceremony on Saturday.