- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2006

James Brown was a man of many monikers — “Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” “Soul Brother No. 1,” “Mr. Dynamite,” “Mr. Please, Please, Please” and “Godfather of Soul.” President Bush added another name — “American Original” — on Christmas Day, when Mr. Brown, 73, died of heart failure.

One of the most influential entertainers of the last half century, Mr. Brown was no mere singer-songwriter. Born in South Carolina during the Great Depression and abandoned by his mom, he picked cotton, shined shoes and, by the time he reached high-school age, had become a violent criminal, serving time in a juvenile detention center. Like Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke, young James had been weaned on gospel music, and, once released, turned his feet and energies in that direction. But it was secular music and the rhythm of the drums that led James Brown to his first recording and million-selling chart topper, “Please, Please, Please,” in 1956.

With gospel as a primary inspiration, James Brown wrote and produced his own records despite the fact that he could neither read nor write music, developing a ryhtmic style that leapt over the decades from pure rock ‘n’ roll to R&B; to funk. While he hit a three-year slump after “Please,” James Brown proved for the next 50 years why he was called the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business” — performing constantly, writing consistently, hitting Billboards with great frequency and appearing in films across the decades (with unforgettable roles in the “The Blues Brothers” and “Undercover Brother”).

James Brown, the father and the husband, was not without personal troubles. He was arrested on drug and domestic abuse charges on more than one occasion, and vanity seemingly got the best of him in the early 1990s, when he had his eyebrows replaced with tattooed ones.

His influence on both sides of the Atlantic. His bluesy rhythms, like those of Elvis and Cooke, affected the Rolling Stones and The Who. Michael Jackson, MC Hammer and Prince without Mr. Dynamite? Impossible. Rap and Hip-hop without the politically incorrect “Don’t Be a Drop-out and politically correct “Say It Loud” and the funky sounds that were James Brown’s alone? No way. Comedians, struck by James Brown’s showmanship, made him one of the most-micked entertainers ever (like Eddie Murphy’s exaggerated but timeless “Saturday Night Live”sendup).

Kennedy Center, Grammy and Hall of Fame honors were his as well. It was the original artistry and generosity of James Brown that struck more than a few chords over a half century. Mick Jagger got it right: “He was a whirlwind of energy and precision, and he was always very generous and supportive to me in the early days of the Stones. His passing is a huge loss to music.” CDs, downloads from the Internet and tributes will help ensure that future generations get to know the “Godfather of Soul.” Low-tech and older fans will turn to their 45s and the turntable to thank James Brown for forever changing the way we “Get on the Good Foot.”

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