1928 – Soul singer James Brown is born in Augusta, Ga. Chart Toppers ranks Brown as the most successful R&B performer of all time with 17 No. 1 songs on the magazine’s R&B singles chart by 1988. His top pop hit is “I Got You (I Feel Good),” which reaches No. 3 in 1963. He is presented a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.
Brown’s career went over decades, and his sound and beat profoundly influenced the development of many different musical genres. Brown moves on a continuum from blues and gospel-based forms and styles to a profoundly Africanised approach to music making.. 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 held the record as the artist who charted the most singles on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever hitting number one on that chart.
1955: The Famous Flames
In 1955, Brown and Bobby Byrd’s sister Sarah performed in a group called “The Gospel Starlighters”. Eventually, Brown joined Bobby Byrd’s vocal group, the Avons, and Byrd turned the group’s sound towards secular rhythm and blues. After the group’s name was changed to The Flames, Brown and Byrd’s group toured the Southern “chitlin’ circuit”, and the group eventually signed a deal with the Cincinnati, Ohio-based label Federal Records, a sister label of King Records.
The group’s first recording was the single “Please, Please, Please” (1956). The single was a #5 R&B hit, selling over a million copies. Nine subsequent singles released by The Flames failed to live up to the success of their debut, and group was in danger of being dropped by King Records.
Brown’s early recordings were fairly straightforward gospel-inspired R&B compositions, heavily influenced by the work of contemporary musicians such as Ray Charles and Little Richard. Little Richard’s relations with Brown were particularly significant in Brown’s development as a musician and showman. Brown once called Richard his idol, and credited Richard’s saxophone-studded mid-1950s road band, The Upsetters, with being the first to put the funk in the rock and roll beat. When Richard left pop music in 1957 to become a preacher, Brown filled out Richard’s remaining tour dates in his place. Several former members of Little Richard’s backup band joined Brown’s group as a consequence of Richard’s exit from the pop music scene.
Brown’s group returned to the charts to stay in 1958 with the #1 R&B hit “Try Me”. This hit record was the best-selling R&B single of the year, becoming the first of 17 chart-topping R&B singles by Brown over the next two decades. By the time “Try Me” was released on record, the group’s billing was changed to James Brown and The Famous Flames. “The Famous Flames” was a vocal group, not a backing band contrary to popular belief.
In 1959, Brown and The Famous Flames moved from the Federal Records subsidiary to King Records, the parent label. Brown began to have recurring conflicts with King Records president Syd Nathan over repertoire and other matters. In one notable instance, Brown recorded the 1960 Top Ten R&B hit “(Do the) Mashed Potatoes” on Dade Records, owned by Henry Stone, under the pseudonym “Nat Kendrick & The Swans” because Nathan refused to allow him to record it for King.
Early and mid-1960s
Brown scored on the charts in the early 1960s with recordings such as his 1962 cover of “Night Train”. While Brown’s early singles were major hits across the southern United States and then regular R&B Top Ten hits, he and the Famous Flames were not successful nationally until his self-financed live show was captured on the 1963 LP Live at the Apollo. Brown financed the recording of the album himself, and it was released on King Records over the objections of label owner Syd Nathan, who saw no commercial potential in a live album containing no new songs. Defying Nathan’s expectations, the album stayed on the pop charts for fourteen months, peaking at #2. In addition, Brown recorded a hit version of the ballad “Prisoner of Love” ,( his first Top 20 pop hit), in 1963 and founded (under King auspices) the fledgling Try Me Records, Brown’s first attempt at running a record label.
Brown followed the success of Live at the Apollo with a string of singles that, along with the work of Allen Toussaint in New Orleans, essentially defined the foundation of funk music. Driven by the success of Live at the Apollo and the failure of King Records to expand record promotion beyond the “black” market, James Brown and fellow Famous Flame Bobby Byrd formed a production company, Fair Deal, to promote sales of Brown’s record releases to white audiences. In this arrangement, Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records, was used as a vehicle to distribute Brown’s music. Smash released his 1964 hit “Out of Sight”, which reached #24 on the pop charts and pointed the way to his later funk hits. Its release also triggered a legal battle between Smash and King that resulted in a one year ban on the release of Brown’s vocal recordings.
During the mid-1960s, two of Brown’s signature tunes “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, both from 1965, were his first Top 10 pop hits, as well as major #1 R&B hits, with each remaining the top-selling singles in black venues for over a month. In 1966, Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” won the Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording (an award last given in 1968). Brown’s national profile was boosted further that year by appearances in the movie Ski Party and the concert film The T.A.M.I. Show, in which he and The Famous Flames (Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett and “Baby Lloyd” Stallworth) upstaged The Rolling Stones. In his concert repertoire and on record, Brown mingled his innovative rhythmic essays with Broadway show tunes and ballads, such as his hit “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (1965).
As the 1960s came to a close, Brown continued to refine the new funk idiom. Brown’s 1967 #1 R&B hit, “Cold Sweat”, sometimes cited as the first true funk song, was the first of his recordings to contain a drum break and the first that featured a harmony that was reduced to a single chord change. The instrumental arrangements on tracks such as “Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose” and “Licking Stick-Licking Stick” (both recorded in 1968) and “Funky Drummer” (recorded in 1969) featured a more developed version of Brown’s mid-1960s style, with the horn section, guitars, bass and drums meshed together in intricate rhythmic patterns based on multiple interlocking riffs.
Changes in Brown’s style that started with “Cold Sweat” also established the musical foundation for Brown’s later hits, such as “I Got the Feelin’” (1968) and “Mother Popcorn” (1969). By this time Brown’s vocals frequently took the form of a kind of rhythmic declamation, not quite sung but not quite spoken, that only intermittently featured traces of pitch or melody. This would become a major influence on the techniques of rapping, which would come to maturity along with hip hop music in the coming decades.
In November 1967 James Brown purchased radio station WGYW in Knoxville, Tennessee for a reported $75,000, according to the January 20, 1968 Record World magazine. The call letters were changed to WJBE reflecting his initials. WJBE began on January 15, 1968 and broadcast a Rhythm & Blues format. The station slogan was “WJBE 1430 Raw Soul”. At the time it was mentioned “Brown has also branched out into real estate and music publishing in recent months.”
Brown’s recordings influenced musicians across the industry, most notably Sly and his Family Stone, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s and soul shouters like Edwin Starr, Temptations David Ruffin, and Dennis Edwards. A then-prepubescent Michael Jackson took Brown’s shouts and dancing into the pop mainstream as the lead singer of Motown’s The Jackson 5. Those same tracks were later resurrected by countless hip-hop musicians from the 1970s onward. As a result, James Brown remains to this day the world’s most sampled recording artist, with “Funky Drummer” itself becoming the most sampled individual piece of music.
Brown’s band during this period employed musicians and arrangers who had come up through the jazz tradition. He was noted for his ability as a bandleader and songwriter to blend the simplicity and drive of R&B with the rhythmic complexity and precision of jazz. Trumpeter Lewis Hamlin and saxophonist/keyboardist Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis (the successor to previous bandleader Nat Jones) led the band. Guitarist Jimmy Nolen provided percussive, deceptively simple riffs for each song, and Maceo Parker’s prominent saxophone solos provided a focal point for many performances. Other members of Brown’s band included stalwart singer and sideman Bobby Byrd, drummers John “Jabo” Starks, Clyde Stubblefield and Melvin Parker (Maceo’s brother), saxophonist St. Clair Pinckney, trombonist Fred Wesley, guitarist Alphonso “Country” Kellum and bassist Bernard Odum.
During this period, Brown’s music empire also expanded along with his influence on the music scene. As Brown’s music empire grew, his desire for financial and artistic independence grew as well. Brown bought radio stations during the late 1960s, including radio station WRDW in Augusta, Georgia where he shined shoes as a boy. Brown also branched out to make several recordings with musicians outside his own band. He recorded Gettin’ Down To It (1969) and Soul on Top (1970), two albums consisting mostly of romantic ballads and jazz standards, with the Dee Felice Trio and the Louie Bellson Orchestra respectively. He recorded a number of tracks with the Dapps, a white Cincinnati bar band, including the hit “I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me)”. He also released three albums of Christmas music with his own band.
1970s and the J.B.’s
By 1970, most members of James Brown’s classic 1960s band had quit his act for other opportunities, and The Famous Flames singing group had disbanded, with original member Bobby Byrd the only one remaining with Brown. Brown and Byrd employed a new band that included future funk greats, such as bassist Bootsy Collins, Collins’ guitarist brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins and trombonist and musical director Fred Wesley. This new backing band was dubbed “The J.B.’s”, and the band made its debut on Brown’s 1970 single “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine”. Although The J.B.’s went through several lineup changes, with the first change occurring in 1971, the band remained Brown’s most familiar backing band.
In 1971, Brown began recording for Polydor Records which also took over distribution of Brown’s King Records catalog. Many of his sidemen and supporting players, such as Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, Vicki Anderson and Hank Ballard, released records on the People label, an imprint founded by Brown that was purchased by Polydor as part of Brown’s new contract. The recordings on the People label, almost all of which were produced by Brown himself, exemplified his “house style”. Songs such as “I Know You Got Soul” by Bobby Byrd, “Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins and “Doing It to Death” by Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s are considered as much a part of Brown’s recorded legacy as the recordings released under his own name.
In 1973, Brown provided the score for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar. In 1974, he toured Africa and performed in Zaire as part of the buildup to the Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Admirers of Brown’s music, including Miles Davis and other jazz musicians, began to cite Brown as a major influence on their own styles. However, Brown, like others who were influenced by his music, also “borrowed” from other musicians. His 1976 single “Hot” (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved)” (R&B #31) borrowed the main riff from “Fame” by David Bowie, not the other way around as was often believed. The riff was provided to “Fame” co-writers John Lennon and Bowie by guitarist Carlos Alomar.
Brown’s Polydor recordings during the 1970s exemplified his innovations from the previous twenty years. Compositions such as “The Payback” (1973), “Papa Don’t Take No Mess”, “Stoned to the Bone”, and “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” (1974), and “Get Up Offa That Thing” (1976) were among his most noted recordings during this time.
Late 1970s and early 1980s
By the mid-1970s Brown’s star-status was on the wane, and key musicians in his band such as Fred Wesley left for other opportunities. The onslaught of the slickly commercial style of disco caught Brown off guard, as it superseded his raw style of funk music on the dance floor. His 1976 albums Get Up Offa That Thing and Bodyheat were Brown’s first flirtations with disco rhythms and its slicker production techniques. While the albums Mutha’s Nature (1977) and Jam 1980s (1978) did not generate chart hits, Brown’s 1979 LP The Original Disco Man was a notable late addition to his oeuvre. This album featured the song “It’s Too Funky in Here,” which was his last top R&B hit of the decade. Like the rest of songs on the The Original Disco Man LP, “It’s Too Funky in Here” was not produced by Brown himself, but produced instead by Brad Shapiro.
Brown’s contract with Polydor expired in 1981, and his recording and touring schedule was somewhat reduced. Despite these events, Brown experienced something of a resurgence during the 1980s, effectively crossing over to a broader, more mainstream audience. He appeared in the feature films The Blues Brothers, Doctor Detroit and Rocky IV, as well as guest starring in the Miami Vice episode “Missing Hours” (1988). He also recorded Gravity, a modestly popular crossover album released on his new host label Scotti Bros., and the top 10 hit 1985 single “Living in America,” which was featured prominently in the Rocky IV film and soundtrack. In 1987, Brown won the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Living in America.” Acknowledging his influence on modern hip-hop and R&B music, Brown collaborated with hip-hop artist Afrika Bambaataa on the single “Unity.”
In 1988, Brown worked with the production team Full Force on the hip-hop influenced album I’m Real, which spawned a #5 R&B hit single, “Static.” Meanwhile, the drum break from the second version of the original 1969 hit “Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose” (the recording included on the compilation album In the Jungle Groove) became so popular at hip hop dance parties (especially for breakdance) during the late 1970s and early 1980s that hip hop founding father Kurtis Blow called the song “the national anthem of hip hop.”
Late 1980s to the 2000s
After a stint in prison during the late 1980s, Brown released the album Love Overdue, with the new single “Move On.” Brown also released the 1991 four-CD box set Star Time, which included music spanning his four-decade career at that time. Nearly all of his earlier LPs were re-released on CD, often with additional tracks and commentary by experts on Brown’s music. In 1993, James Brown released the album Universal James, which spawned the singles “Can’t Get Any Harder,” “How Long” and “Georgia-Lina.” In 1995, the live album Live At The Apollo 1995 was released, featuring the new studio track “Respect Me,” which was released as a single that same year. Brown followed up this single with the megamix “Hooked on Brown” that was released as a single in 1996. Brown’s later LP releases during this time included the 1998 studio album I’m Back that featured the single “Funk On Ah Roll,” and the 2002 album The Next Step that featured the single “Killing is Out, School is In.” In 2003, Brown participated in the PBS American Masters television documentary James Brown: Soul Survivor, which was directed by Jeremy Marre.
Although Brown had various run-ins with the law, he continued to perform and record regularly, and he also made appearances in television shows and films, such as Blues Brothers 2000, and sporting events, such as his 2000 appearance at the World Championship Wrestling pay-per-view event SuperBrawl X. In Brown’s appearance at the SuperBrawl X event, he danced alongside wrestler Ernest “The Cat” Miller, whose character was based on Brown. Brown was featured in Tony Scott’s 2001 short film, Beat the Devil, alongside Clive Owen, Gary Oldman, Danny Trejo and Marilyn Manson. Brown also made a cameo appearance in the 2002 Jackie Chan film The Tuxedo, in which Chan was required to finish Brown’s act after Brown was accidentally knocked out by Chan.
Brown appeared at Edinburgh 50,000 – The Final Push, the final Live 8 concert on July 6, 2005, where he performed a duet with British pop star Will Young on “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”. He also performed a duet with another British pop star, Joss Stone, a week earlier on the United Kingdom chat show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Before his death, Brown was scheduled to perform a duet with singer Annie Lennox on the song “Vengeance” for her new album Venus, scheduled for release in early 2007. In 2006, Brown continued his “Seven Decades Of Funk World Tour,” his last concert tour where he performed all over the world. His last shows were greeted with positive reviews, and one of his final concert appearances at the Irish Oxegen festival in Punchestown in 2006 was performed for a record crowd of 80,000 people. Brown’s last televised appearance was at his induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame in November 2006.
James Brown Revue
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.
Before James Brown appeared on stage, his personal MC gave him an elaborate introduction accompanied by drumrolls, as the MC worked in Brown’s various sobriquets along with the names of many of his hit songs. The introduction by Fats Gonder, captured on Brown’s 1963 album Live at the Apollo album, is a representative example:
So now ladies and gentlemen it is star time, are you ready for star time? Thank you and thank you very kindly. It is indeed a great pleasure to present to you at this particular time, national and internationally known as the hardest working man in show business, the men that sing “I’ll Go Crazy” … “Try Me” … “You’ve Got the Power” … “Think” … “If You Want Me” … “I Don’t Mind” … “Bewildered” …the million dollar seller, “Lost Someone” … the very latest release, “Night Train” … let’s everybody “Shout and Shimmy” … Mr. Dynamite, the amazing Mr. Please Please himself, the star of the show, James Brown and the Famous Flames!
Among the MCs who worked with Brown and his revue through the years, Brown’s most famous MC was Danny Ray, who appeared on stage with him for over 30 years.
Concert repertoire and format
James Brown’s performances were famous for their intensity and length. His own stated goal was to “give people more than what they came for — make them tired, ’cause that’s what they came for.’” Brown’s concert repertoire consisted mostly of his own hits and recent songs, with a few R&B covers mixed in. Brown danced vigorously as he sang, working popular dance steps such as the Mashed Potato into his routine along with dramatic leaps, splits and slides. In addition, his horn players and backup singers (The Famous Flames) typically performed choreographed dance routines, and later incarnations of the Revue included backup dancers. Male performers in the Revue were required to wear tuxedoes and cummerbunds long after more casual concert wear became the norm among the younger musical acts. Brown’s own extravagant outfits and his elaborate processed hairdo completed the visual impression.
A James Brown concert typically included a performance by a featured vocalist, such as Vicki Anderson or Marva Whitney, and an instrumental feature for the band, which sometimes served as the opening act for the show. Although Brown released many live albums, Say It Live & Loud: Live in Dallas 08.26.68, released by Polydor in 1998, was one of only a few audio recordings that captured a performance of the James Brown Revue from beginning to end.
A trademark feature of Brown’s stage shows involved the MC draping a cape over Brown’s shoulders as the MC tried to escort Brown off the stage after he had worked himself to exhaustion during his performance. As Brown was escorted off the stage by the MC, Brown’s vocal group, The Famous Flames, chanted the background vocals “Please, please don’t go-oh-oh….” Brown then shook off the cape and staggered back to the microphone to perform an encore, often singing the hit “Please, Please, Please.”
This act was often repeated several times in succession. Brown’s cape routine was inspired by a similar routine used by the professional wrestler Gorgeous George.His cape routine has also been alleged to have its origin in the Jim Crow South. James and the band were not allowed to use the dressing rooms, and often had to change clothes outside. In the wintertime he would wear a robe or cape to stay warm, and then upon entering the stage, he would toss aside the garment.
Brown as band leader
Brown was a taskmaster when it came to band practices and performances. He demanded extreme discipline, perfection and precision from his musicians and dancers — right down to when performers in his Revue showed up for rehearsals all the way to whether members wore the right “uniform” or “costume” for concert performances. During an interview conducted by Terri Gross during the NPR segment “Fresh Air” with Maceo Parker, a former saxophonist in Brown’s band for most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s and 1980s, Parker offered his experience with the discipline that Brown demanded of the band:
You gotta be on time. You gotta have your uniform. Your stuff’s got to be intact. You gotta have the bow tie. You got to have it. You can’t come up without the bow tie. You cannot come up without a cummerbund … [The] patent leather shoes we were wearing at the time gotta be greased. You just gotta have this stuff. This is what [Brown expects] … [Brown] bought the costumes. He bought the shoes. And if for some reason [the band member decided] to leave the group, [Brown told the person to] please leave my uniforms ….
Brown also had a practice of directing, correcting and assessing fines on members of his band who broke his rules, such as wearing unshined shoes, dancing out of sync or showing up late on stage. During some of his concert performances, Brown danced in front of his band with his back to the audience as he slid across the floor, flashing hand signals and splaying his pulsating fingers to the beat of the music. Although audiences thought Brown’s dance routine was part of his act, this practice was actually his way of pointing to the offending member of his troupe who played or sang the wrong note or committed some other infraction. Brown used his splayed fingers and hand signals to alert the offending person of the fine that person must pay to him for breaking his rules.
Civil unrest and self-empowerment
“ James Brown was the father I never had. I traveled with him; he financed my youth group … What I do functionally is what Dr. King, Reverend Jackson and the movement are all about; but I learned manhood from James Brown. I always say that James Brown taught me how to be a man. ”
—Al Sharpton on his relationship with James Brown,
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, James Brown was renowned for his work with social activism. In 1966, he released the single “Don’t Be a Drop-Out” as a lesson to young students who had thoughts of dropping out. He later made public speeches in front of dozens of children and advocated the importance of education in school. In 1967, he issued a pro-American single, “America is My Home,” which was a “rap” about how he felt people, particularly in the African-American community, were neglecting the country that he said “could give (them) opportunities” explaining how at one time he was shining shoes and the next, he was greeting the President of the United States as he did when President Lyndon B. Johnson thanked him for donating money to school drop-out prevention programs.
A year later, he performed in front of a televised audience in Boston after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.. Brown is often given credit for preventing rioting with the performance. However, it was Mayor Kevin White who strongly restrained the Boston Police from cracking down on minor violence and protests after the assassination, and Boston religious and community leaders who worked to keep tempers from flaring. Also, White arranged to have the performance broadcast multiple times on Boston’s public television station, WGBH, thus keeping many potential rioters off the streets, watching the concert for free. Brown demanded $60,000 for “gate” fees (money he thought would be lost from ticket sales on account of the concert being broadcast for free), and then threatened to go public about the secret arrangement when the city balked at paying up after the concert, news of which would have been a political death-blow to White, and possibly sparked riots on its own. White successfully lobbied the behind-the-scenes power-brokering group known as “The Vault” to come up with money for Brown’s gate fee and other liberal social programs; The Vault contributed $100,000 to such programs, and Brown received $15,000 from them via the city. White persuaded management at the Boston Garden to give up their share of receipts to make up the difference.
Afterwards, President Johnson advised Brown to visit Washington, D.C. to greet inner-city residents there performing at a benefit concert there and expressed the notion that violence “wasn’t the way to go”. Many in the black community felt that Brown was speaking out to them more than some major leaders in the country, a sentiment that was strengthened with the release of his groundbreaking landmark single, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
Brown continued performing benefit concerts for various civil rights organizations including Jesse Jackson’s PUSH and The Black Panther Party’s Breakfast program throughout the early-1970s. Brown also continued to release socially-conscious singles such as “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself)” (1969), “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” (1971), “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing” (1972), “King Heroin” (1974), “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” (1974) and “Reality” (1975). The week before his death, Brown took time to give Christmas presents to an orphanage in Atlanta.
James Brown’s sister, Fannie Brown, shared James’ passion and concern for the condition of today’s youth and expressed these concerns by writing songs for James Brown and his band to perform in concert. Brown pocketed the songs for later collaboration, but sang songs written by Fannie Brown wrote in his final track “Gut Bucket.” According to Fannie Brown, “Pull Your Pants UP! U SAGGIN’,” a song about negativity in today’s music world, is planned for a future release.
At the end of his life, James Brown lived in a riverfront home in Beech Island, South Carolina, directly across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia. Brown was once diagnosed with prostate cancer, which was successfully treated with surgery. Regardless of his health, Brown maintained his reputation as the “hardest working man in show business” by keeping up with his grueling performance schedule. However, James Brown led as colorful a life on stage with his performances, as he had off stage with his troubles with the law and his last marriage in particular.
Marriages and children
Brown was married four times — Velma Warren (1953–1969, divorced), Deidre “Deedee” Jenkins (1970–1981, divorced), Adrienne Lois Rodriguez (1984–1996, wife’s death) and Tomi Rae Hynie (2001–2006, his death). From these and other relationships, James Brown had five sons — Teddy Brown, Terry Brown, Larry Brown, Daryl Brown (a member of Brown’s backing band) and James Joseph Brown III, in addition to four daughters — Lisa Brown, Dr. Yamma Noyola Brown Lumar, Deanna Brown Thomas and Venisha Brown. Brown also had eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Brown’s eldest son, Teddy, died in a car crash in 1973.
According to a 22 August 2007 article published in the British newspaper The Telegraph, DNA tests indicate that Brown also fathered at least three illegitimate children. The only one of them who has been identified is LaRhonda Pettit (born 1962), a retired air stewardess and teacher who lives in Houston.
Brown-Hynie marriage controversy
Much controversy surrounds Tomi Rae Hynie’s marriage to James Brown that occurred in December 2001, which was officiated by Rev. Larry Fryer. Brown’s longtime attorney, Albert “Buddy” Dallas, reported that the marriage between Brown and Hynie was not valid because Hynie was married at that time to Javed Ahmed, a Pakistani whom Hynie claimed married her for a Green Card in an immigration fraud. Although Hynie stated that her marriage to Javed Ahmed was later annulled, the annulment for Hynie’s 1997 marriage to Ahmed did not occur until April 2004. In an interview on CNN with Larry King, Hynie produced a 2001 marriage certificate as proof of her marriage to James Brown, but she did not provide King with court records pointing to an annulment of her marriage to him or to Ahmed.
According to Dallas, Brown was angry and hurt that Hynie concealed her prior marriage from him, and that Brown moved to file for annulment from Hynie. Dallas added that, although Hynie’s marriage to Javed Ahmed was annulled after she married James Brown, the Brown-Hynie marriage was not valid under South Carolina law because Brown and Hynie did not remarry after the annulment. In August 2003, Brown took out a full-page public notice in Variety Magazine featuring Hynie, James II and himself on vacation at Disney World to announce that he and Hynie were going their separate ways.
Paternity of James Brown II
In a separate CNN interview, Debra Opri, another Brown family attorney, revealed to Larry King that Brown wanted a DNA test performed after his death to confirm the paternity of James Brown II — not for Brown’s sake, but for the sake of the other family members. In April 2007, Hynie selected a guardian ad litem whom she wants appointed by the court to represent her son, James Brown II, in the paternity proceedings.
Brown’s personal life was marred by several brushes with the law. At the age of 16, was arrested for theft and served 3 years in prison. In 1988, Brown was arrested following an alleged high-speed car chase on Interstate 20 along the Georgia-South Carolina state border. He was convicted of carrying an unlicensed pistol and assaulting a police officer, along with various drug-related and driving offenses. Although he was sentenced to six years in prison, he was eventually released in 1991 after serving only three years of his sentence. Brown’s FBI file, released to The Washington Post in 2007 under the Freedom of Information Act, supported Brown’s claim that the high-speed chase did not occur as claimed by the police, and that local police shot at his car several times during an incident of police harassment and assaulted him after his arrest. In another incident, the police were summoned to Brown’s residence on July 3, 2000 after he was accused of charging an electric company repairman with a steak knife when the repairman visited Brown’s house to investigate a complaint about having no lights at the residence.
In 2003, Brown was pardoned for past crimes that he was convicted of committing in South Carolina. In January 2005, a woman named Jacque Hollander filed a second lawsuit against James Brown, which stemmed from a alleged 1988 forcible rape. When the case was initially heard before a judge in 2002, Hollander’s claims against Brown were dismissed by the court. Although the statute of limitations ran out, Hollander brought the second suit on the grounds that stress from the alleged assault later caused her to contract Grave’s Disease, a thyroid condition. Hollander claimed that the incident took place in South Carolina while she was employed by Brown as a publicist.
Hollander alleged that, during her ride in a van with Brown, Brown pulled over to the side of the road and sexually assaulted her while he threatened her with a shotgun. In her case against Brown, Hollander entered as evidence a DNA sample and a polygraph result, but the evidence was rendered useless because the statute of limitations had already ran its course. Hollander later attempted to bring her case before the Supreme Court, but nothing became of her complaint in the end
During the 1990s and 2000s, Brown was repeatedly arrested for domestic violence. Adrienne Rodriguez, his third wife, had him arrested four times between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s on charges of assault. In January 2004, Brown was arrested in South Carolina on a domestic violence charge after Tomi Rae Hynie accused him of pushing her to the floor during an argument at their home, where she suffered scratches and bruises to her right arm and hip. Later that year in June 2004, Brown pleaded no contest to the domestic violence incident, but served no jail time. Instead, Brown was required to forfeit a US$1,087 bond as punishment.
Death and the aftermath
On December 23, 2006, James Brown, in ill health, showed up at his dentist’s office in Atlanta, Georgia several hours later than his appointment for dental implant work. During that visit, Brown’s dentist observed that Brown looked “very bad … weak and dazed.” Instead of performing the dental work, the dentist advised Brown to see a doctor right away about his medical condition.
Brown checked in at the Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia on December 24, 2006 for a medical evaluation of his condition, and he was admitted to the hospital for observation and treatment. According to Charles Bobbit, Brown’s longtime personal manager and friend, Brown had been sick and suffering with a noisy cough since he returned from a November trip to Europe. Bobbit also added that it was characteristic of Brown to never tell or complain to anyone that he was sick, and that Brown frequently performed during illness. Although Brown had to cancel upcoming shows in Waterbury, Connecticut and Englewood, New Jersey, Brown was confident that the doctor would discharge him from the hospital in time to perform the New Year’s Eve shows.
For the New Year’s celebrations, Brown was scheduled to perform at the Count Basie Theatre in New Jersey and at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York, in addition to performing a song live on CNN for the Anderson Cooper New Year’s Eve special. Instead, Brown remained hospitalized, and his medical condition worsened throughout that day.
On December 25, 2006, Brown died at approximately 1:45 a.m.(06:45 UTC) from congestive heart failure resulting from complications of pneumonia, with his agent Frank Copsidas and his friend Charles Bobbit at his bedside. According to Bobbit, Brown uttered “I’m hopping on the night train,” and then Brown took three long, quiet breaths and closed his eyes