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< Midday: The Movie Maven and the history of music on the radio | Main | Broadcast pioneer Frank Stanton dies >

God rest ye funky gentleman

Posted at 12:19 PM on December 25, 2006 by Bill Wareham

On an otherwise pleasantly serene Christmas, I discovered while scanning the wires that James Brown died early this morning:

ATLANTA (AP) - James Brown, the dynamic, pompadoured "Godfather of Soul,'' whose revolutionary rhythms, rough voice and flashing footwork influenced generations of musicians from rock to rap, died early Christmas morning. He was 73.

Brown was hospitalized with pneumonia at Emory Crawford Long Hospital on Sunday and died of heart failure around 1:45 a.m. Monday, said his agent, Frank Copsidas of Intrigue Music.

Brown was largely an obscure figure to white kids like me who hit their teenage years in the 1970s. I was aware of him, but only vaguely aware of his music, not to mention his immense influence.

Then one night shortly after graduating from college I was watching Late Night with David Letterman (pre-CBS), as I did almost every night. James Brown was the guest and it was the most electrifying performance I could ever remember seeing on television. Brown could barely sit still for the interview and the show basically turned into one long performance, with all the trademark dance moves, flopping sweat and rock-solid soul grooves.

The closest thing in my experience was seeing Bruce Springsteen, but it was abundantly clear how much of his showmanship the Boss owed to the Godfather of Soul. Prince, too. And all those rappers literally lifting riffs right off Brown's records.

I did get to see Brown in person not long after that, at the Carlton Celebrity Room in Bloomington. Seats right up close where we were in danger of getting sprayed by sweat every time JB would shimmy, spin or drop to the floor. The AP article above went on to say that Brown would lose two to three pounds every perfomance.

Brown had his well-documented problems, with the law and his wife, among others. But as a musician he had few peers. Rest in peace.