I started shining shoes at 3 cents, then went up to 5 cents, then 6 cents. I never did get up to a dime. I was 9 years old before I got a pair of underwear from a real store; all my clothes were made from sacks and things like that. But I knew I had to make it. I had the determination to go on, and my determination was to be somebody.
– James Brown
Born in Barnwell, South Carolina, on May 3, 1933, into extreme poverty, James Brown worked his way to the top of the funk and R&B music earning the moniker “The Godfather of Soul.” His unique vocal and musical style influenced many artists. Brown was also renowned for his work in social activism, both in his songwriting (“America is My Home,” “Black and Proud”) and advocating the benefits of education to schoolchildren. James’ Aunt Minnie soon moved in to help out the family, and not long after that, they all relocated. James’ father left not long after, never to live with his son again, though he continued to be a presence in the boy’s life. By the time James was a teenager he no longer attended school. Instead, he worked to help support his family. He would take on odd jobs washing cars, shining shoes, and washing dishes.
At the age of sixteen, James was arrested and charged with armed robbery and attempted automobile theft. He was sentenced to 8 to 16 years in prison. It was in prison that he began to take an interest in music.Brown struggled in the early 1950’s trying to kick off his music career, forming different bands and performing in his local area. In 1958, Brown released the single “Try Me” and watched it climb to #1 on the R&B charts. This was the launching point of his career.Brown recorded a number of hits in the early 1960’s, including “Think,” “Night Train,” and “Prisoner of Love.” Brown’s 1963 album, “Live at the Apollo,” became the first record in history to sell more than one million copies. He followed this success with singles such as “I Feel Good,” “It’s a Man’s World,” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” the latter of which won him a Grammy Award.
Brown’s career was off to a great start, but in the early 1970’s he ran into some legal trouble with the IRS. Brown was involved in a bribery scandal and was forced to pay $4.5 million dollars in tax money. During this time he was dealing with a fresh divorce and the untimely death of his son Teddy in a car accident. In order to survive his financial struggle, Brown was forced to sell his jet and radio station.In 1987, Brown was arrested on drug charges, assault on his wife, and the illegal possession of firearms. Brown was sentenced to six years in prison but was granted parole after serving two years of his term on the basis that he would not operate a motor vehicle or possess a firearm. Brown entered the music world again after being released in 1991 but struggled due to the change in music.
His numbers were low on the charts and it was unfamiliar territory to the star.Brown received a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1993, and recorded his last album “I’m Back” in 1998. It was the year 2000 when his age and health started to take a toll on his voice and ability to perform. In 2004, Brown was diagnosed with prostate cancer but fought the disease as well as managed his diabetes until 2006 when it was discovered that he had pneumonia. Brown was admitted to the hospital to receive treatment but died of heart failure on the morning of December 25, 2006.