Everybody knows that James Brown is one of the greatest musicians ever. His 50+ year career spanned lots of success and crazy stories. There’s an old saying that success leaves clues, and we can learn a lot from James. Here are ten moments from the life of the Godfather of Soul that can inspire you!
1. One Person Can Make a Difference!
Everybody knows about the race riots of 1968. Months prior, James Brown was scheduled to perform in Boston the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Councilman Tom Atkins had the idea to air the concert on TV for free to encourage people to stay home and watch. That night, Boston had even less crime than it would have had on a regular Friday night. James Brown is credited with making Boston one of the few major cities to not to be flooded with riots.
2. From Shacks and Potato Sacks to Riches!
James was born in a single-room shack. Six years later, he upgraded to his aunt’s house and sang to bring clients to her brothel. Many of his clothes were made from potato sacks, and he even got sent home from school because his outfits didn’t fit the dress code. For this reason, he was made to drop out of the 7th grade.
3. Movin’ On Up!
Young James used to shine shoes on the steps of a Chicago radio station. He started out at 3 cents. Soon, he was at 6 cents, but never up to 10. Years later, he owned that radio station!
4. The Experts Aren’t Always Right!
James Brown and the Famous Flames performed at the Apollo in 1962, with a recording released the following year. Their label, King, didn’t want to release an album version, believing that the lack of new songs would make it a failure. James had to pay out of his own pocket to get his material out. The future classic went on to spend 66 weeks on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, and is their first million-selling album. It also paved the way for 3 more albums being recorded there.
5. You Can Beat Cancer!
In 2004, James learned that he had prostate cancer. As it was in the early stages, it was removed through surgery. Weeks later, James went back to performing in concert. One year later, he was in complete remission.
6. How Passionate are You?!
Beginning with the Midtfyns Festival of July 1995, James Brown traveled the world to perform in concert every single year up to the month before his death at age 73. Meanwhile, his health was deteriorating from illnesses including diabetes, prostate cancer, and pneumonia. Yet he never complained and often performed while sick. Before his death on Christmas 2006, James was booked for several New Year’s performances, including the Count Basie Theatre in New Jersey and at the B. B. King Blues Club in New York, plus the Anderson Cooper New Year’s Eve special.
7. What to Do with a Great Idea!
A few hours before dawn, James shut off the TV after seeing some bad news. About 20 minutes later, he called his manager back into the room. By this time, James had wrote lyrics on two napkins. He then commanded his manager to go find a studio, some musicians, and 30 black kids. All in the middle of the night. The manager did as he was told, and “Say it Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud!” was recorded.
8. Keep Your Soul!
A surprising fact of James Brown’s career is that he never signed with Motown. Berry Gordy Jr. wanted to sign him, but James refused. He was disinterested in the structured style of Motown, preferring his raw, on-the-fly dancing and singing. This was more important to him than the increased exposure and money of the high-profile label.
9. You Don’t Have to Know Everything!
James Brown’s group, The Famous Flames, had the amazing and hectic job of keeping up with James’ wild live performances. They stole the show at 1964 The T.A.M.I. Show to the point where Mick Jagger refused to go on after them. James demanded perfection out of them, and would use hand signals in the middle of dancing to let them know they were being fined for missing notes or steps. In spite of all this, James didn’t know how to read sheet music.
10. Make Things Happen for a Reason!
At age 15, James Brown was arrested for stealing, and sentenced to 8-16 years in juvenile hall. It was there he met future bandmate Johnny Terry and formed a gospel quartet with him. They impressed the warden so much that James was paroled after serving 3 years.
Make a nice day!