James Brown's career spanned more than 50 years. As singer, songwriter, dancer and front man par excellence, he was an immeasurable and pervasive influence on modern music. Not to mention hair styles. One of my favourite music critics, Jon Pareles, describes James Brown's music as "sweaty and complex, disciplined and wild, lusty and socially conscious".
Beyond his dozens of hits, Mr. Brown forged an entire musical idiom that is now a foundation of pop worldwide.What a talent - what a life. I wish I could have seen him in his prime.
"I taught them everything they know, but not everything I know," he wrote in an autobiography.
The funk he introduced in his 1965 hit, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," was both deeply rooted in Africa and thoroughly American. It found the percussive side of every instrument and meshed sharply syncopated patterns into kinetic polyrhythms that simply made people dance.
His innovations reverberated through the soul and rhythm-and-blues of the 1970s and the hip-hop of the next three decades. The beat of his instrumental "Funky Drummer" may well be the most widely sampled rhythm in hip-hop.
Mr. Brown's stage moves -- the spins, the quick shuffles, the knee-drops, the splits -- were imitated by performers who tried to match his stamina, from Mick Jagger to Michael Jackson, and were admired by the many more who could not.
And especially during the 1960s, Mr. Brown was a political force; his 1968 song, "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud," changed America's racial vocabulary.