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'Godfather of Soul' James Brown Dies at 73

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By Matthew Bigg

James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul," whose voice, showmanship and bold rhythms brought funk into the mainstream and influenced a generation of black music, died on Christmas morning at age 73.

Brown died of congestive heart failure at 1:45 a.m. (0645 GMT) on Monday at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, his lawyer Joel Katz told a news conference.

Brown went to a dentist last week, who noticed him coughing and recommended he see a doctor. He was admitted on Saturday with severe pneumonia.

"He was having pain before, but then the pain went away and he told me 'I'm going away tonight,"' Charles Bobbit, Brown's personal manager and longtime friend, told reporters.

"I didn't believe him," he said, adding that Brown died quietly soon after.

Brown was one of America's great showmen and band leaders. He created a revolutionary sound that mixed funky rhythms and staccato horns behind his own often explosive vocals.

Hip hop and rap artists revered him and extensively used his beats as the backdrop to their own music, while singers such as Michael Jackson drew on his dance style.

"He's the godfather of hip hop and rap, the father of funk," said his manager Frank Copsidas, adding Brown would be buried in Augusta, Georgia.

Brown emerged from a boyhood of poverty and petty crime in Augusta in the era when the South was still segregated and began his music career in jail as a juvenile offender.

He personal life remained turbulent and he was jailed in 1988 for drug, weapons and vehicular charges after a car chase through Georgia and South Carolina which ended when police shot out the tires of his truck. He left prison in 1991.

He was named to President Reagan's Council Against Drugs but was arrested several times in the mid-1980s and 90s and charged with drug and weapons possession.

"Soul is all the hard knocks, all the punishment the black man has had ... all the unfulfilled dreams that must come true," he once said.

President Bush said he was saddened by Brown's death. "For half a century, the innovative talent of the 'Godfather of Soul' enriched our culture and influenced generations of musicians," Bush said in a statement.

'Mr. Dynamite'

In his final months, Brown's health was in decline but he masked it with good diet and lots of rest to maintain his punishing schedule as the self-styled "hardest working man in show business," Bobbit said.

He was due to perform in Times Square, New York, on New Year's Eve and this year alone did more than 100 live shows, said Copsidas.

Brown had more than 119 charting singles and recorded over 50 albums, was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and received a lifetime Grammy achievement award in 1992.

Big hits included "Please, Please, Please," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)" "Get Up (I feel like being a Sex Machine)" and "It's a Man's World."

Brown, also known as "Mr. Dynamite," would dance himself into a controlled frenzy as part of his stage show and typically changed suits a dozen times.

He once said he aimed to wear out his audience and "give people more than what they came for -- make them tired."

Brown's hit "Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" became an anthem for the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s but many fans criticized his decision to perform the song at Richard Nixon's inaugural in 1969.

"Back then, black folks were called negroes, but James said you can say it loud, that being black is a great thing instead of something you have to apologize for," rapper Chuck D. of the group Public Enemy said in 2003.

Brown also built a business empire with a string of radio stations and a production company. He even played a manic preacher in the hit movie "The Blues Brothers."

Every recording he made from 1960-77 reached the top 100.

His 1985 monster hit "Living in America," featured in the movie "Rocky IV," brought him a new generation of fans and his first Grammy.

In a trademark routine, he would return on stage at the end of a show and sing a few lines of "Please, Please, Please," sweat pouring from his bared chest, feigning exhaustion.

His stage crew would throw a cape over his back and he would leave, only to reappear seconds later on his knees, moaning the song into the microphone. The routine would sometimes go on for 30-40 minutes and made fans delirious.

Additional reporting by Steve James and Dean Goodman


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