“Hardest-working” title fit self-reliant Brown

By Freedom Newspapers

It was almost a shock to hear that James Brown was only 73 when he died on Christmas morning in Beech Island, S.C. It seemed as if the self-styled — but accurately so — “hardest working man in show business” had lived through enough to fill at least three or four ordinary lives.

How much more quintessentially American can a life have been? Brown was born in a one-room shack in Barnwell, S.C. When his parents separated when he was 4 he went to live with an aunt who ran a brothel. He picked cotton, shined shoes and buck-danced for soldiers for nickels and dimes. He also got in trouble with the law — as he would much later — serving three years as a juvenile for breaking and entering and stealing cars.

James Brown and the Famous Flames cut their first record, “Please, Please, Please,” in 1956. The head of the record company hated it but released it anyway, and it became a million-seller.

As he found his sound and America found him, Brown became not just an icon but a massive influence. He was not only the godfather of soul but the midwife of funk, rap and hip-hop. Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger tried to copy his moves. He sounded utterly spontaneous but his band was always tight. He was a successful enough businessman to get into trouble for allegedly owing the IRS more than $4 million.

He preached and practiced self-reliance and remained an individualist and a rebel to his dying day. “I taught them (other musicians) everything they know but not everything I know,” he once wrote. We hope he’s passing it all along to the heavenly choir.