Modern Culture01 Sep 2008 09:52 am
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Modern Culture, will be available in stores on October 14. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As well as continuing to expand on posts from the General Edition, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from the Modern Culture devotional. Today’s entry on James Brown is from the Music section.
James Brown (1933–2006) recorded his first hit, “Please, Please, Please,” in 1956 as a member of a band called the Flames, a rhythm and blues group led by the vocalist Bobby Byrd (1934–2007). It was an impassioned soul track, not surprising from an artist who has been nicknamed the Godfather of Soul and Soul Brother Number One.
But while Brown’s best soul tracks are comparable to those by Sam Cooke (1931–1964) or Ray Charles (1930–2004), his greatest contribution was to the musical form that he invented and pioneered a decade later: funk.
Funk was born February 1, 1965, when Brown, already a veteran performer, entered Arthur Smith Studios in Char-lotte, North Carolina. He brought along a band of nine musicians, including the famous saxophonist Maceo Parker (1943–). Brown had lyrics as well, but there wasn’t much to them. He wanted a song to encompass every style of dance popular at the time, so he shouted out their names one by one: “the jerk,” “the fly,” “the monkey,” “the mashed potato,” “the twist,” “the boomerang.”
While Brown sang, his musicians shot out notes all around him, each one a quick, staccato burst. Every note sounded percussive. As Brown wrote in his autobiography, “I was hearing everything, even the guitars, like they were drums.” The song Brown and his band recorded in a single take that day—“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”—was the per-fect prototype for funk, a style that values rhythm above all else.
Over the next four decades, Brown would earn another of his nicknames: “the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business.” His output included classic singles such as “I Got You (I Feel Good)” (1965), “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1968), and “Mother Popcorn” (1969). He also per-formed elaborate live shows, including his 1963 Live at the Apollo, which some critics regard as one of the greatest live performances ever recorded on tape. Brown died in 2006, but his funk revolution is carried on to this day by nearly every pop artist in the world.
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