James Brown, Godfather of Soul, R.I.P.

James Brown, the dynamic, pompadoured “Godfather of Soul,” whose rasping vocals and revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco as well, died Monday, his agent said. He was 73. Brown was hospitalized Sunday at Emory Crawford Long Hospital with pneumonia and died around 1:45 a.m. Monday, said Frank Copsidas of Intrigue Music. Longtime friend Charles Bobbit was by his side, Copsidas said.

The agent said Brown’s family is being notified of his death and that it’s cause is still uncertain. “We really don’t know at this point what he died of,” Copsidas said.

Along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and a handful of others, he was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years. At least one generation idolized him, and sometimes openly copied him. His rapid-footed dancing inspired Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson among others. Songs such as David Bowie’s “Fame,” Prince’s “Kiss,” George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song” were clearly based on Brown’s rhythms and vocal style.

If Brown’s claim to the invention of soul can be challenged by fans of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, then his rights to the genres of rap, disco and funk are beyond question. He was to rhythm and dance music what Dylan was to lyrics: the unchallenged popular innovator.

“James presented obviously the best grooves,” rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy once told The Associated Press. “To this day, there has been no one near as funky. No one’s coming even close.”

His hit singles include such classics as “Out of Sight,” “(Get Up I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Say It Out Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” a landmark 1968 statement of racial pride.

“I clearly remember we were calling ourselves colored, and after the song, we were calling ourselves black,” said in a 2003 Associated Press interview. “The song showed even people to that day that lyrics and music and a song can change society.”

He won a Grammy award for lifetime achievement in 1992, as well as Grammys in 1965 for “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (best R&B recording) and for “Living In America” in 1987 (best R&B vocal performance, male.) He was one of the initial artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, along with Presley, Chuck Berry and other founding fathers.

James Brown R.I.P.

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