It Was A Wonderful Life: James Brown Dies at 73

Categories: Obituary

James Brown died of congestive heart failure resulting from pneumonia Christmas morning in his hometown of Atlanta. Variously known as the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, JB, and a dozen other nicknames, Brown's influence is difficult to overstate. Indeed, perhaps the best way (or at least the only way this stunned brain can manage) to pay him tribute during this holiday season is to imagine, a la "It's a Wonderful Life," what the world would have been like had he never existed.

The development of funk music would be severely retarded if it existed at all. All the seminal funk acts, from George Clinton's P-Funk to Sly Stone's saucy fatback to Chic's chicka-chicka thrumbeat, to Prince's purple paisleys, owed significant chunks of their sound to JB's blueprint.

Brown was arguably the greatest musical showman of the past 50 years, with some of the most revered and galvanizing stage performers--Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson come immediately to mind--overtly copying his moves.

Race relations would have been more violent and more volatile without Brown's input. His 1968 hit, "Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)," became a topical and self-fulfilling catchphrase. In April of that year, he saved the City of Boston from what would almost certainly been a damaging race riot by having his concert televised there on the night after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

This musically addled white boy, and millions like me of all races, wouldn't have experienced the thrill of hearing "Sex Machine," "Cold Sweat," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "Night Train," "This is a Man's World," and literally dozens of other songs that involuntarily had us grinding our ankles and feet into some spinning, mashed-potatoed moonwalk, hitting the orgasm scale on the geek savant meter, and not giving a shit who was laughing at us. For these and so many other things, Thank God for the life of James Brown.

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