The Godfather of Soul, James Brown

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The Man

James Brown grew up in Augusta during the Great Depression and World War II. He overcame poverty and segregation to become an international music icon. Throughout his life, he made many civic, educational, and philanthropic contributions that provided hope and opportunity to those in need.

The Musician

Brown was a self-taught musician. In 1953, he began his professional musical career with Bobby Byrd?s group the Gospel Starlighters, who later changed their name to the Flames. Their hits began with Please, Please, Please and then later with Try Me. In the late 1950s the group became known as James Brown and The Famous Flames. Their R&B sound soon developed into funk and soul and had a profound worldwide musical influence. As an innovative performer, prolific songwriter, and record producer, Brown changed the music industry forever and paved the way for many performers, particularly hip hop and rap artists. Today, Brown remains the most sampled musician of popular music.

The Legacy

Brown's career was legendary: he was a three-time Grammy Award winner - in 1965 for "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (best R&B recording), in 1987 for "Living In America" (best R&B vocal performance, male), and in 1992 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Along with Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, Brown was one of the first three artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. On December 7, 2003, Brown was a recipient of Kennedy Center Honors for his lifetime of contributions to the arts and American culture.

Highlights include:

  • An array of costumes and personal artifacts worn by Brown from the 1960s and on
  • A King of Soul crown worn by Brown in the 1950s
  • Family photos with candid images of Brown and his children, on tour, at home,and during philanthropic activities
  • Programs from the three James Brown Memorial Services held in New York, Augusta, and South Carolina
  • Audio-visual stations featuring concert performance footage, highlighted tracks and studio recordings
  • Excerpts of interviews with individuals who owe influence to Brown.

Interactive kiosks highlight the often imitated, but never duplicated, sound of Browns horn-driven funk music and enable exhibit visitors to experience his musical evolution as a singer, composer, and performer. His remarkable legacy is told through oral histories of musicians, politicians, and entertainers. Excerpts of interviews with Dan Aykroyd, Anthony Keidis, Smokey Robinson, and more contribute personal stories and insights into Brown as a performer, philanthropist, and musician.

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