Brown Introduces Funk Music

Master rhythm-and-blues and soul singer James Brown won his first Grammy Award for his 1965 recording “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” signaling the invention of funk.

Summary of Event

On March 15, 1966, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) awarded James Brown his first Grammy for his composition “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” as the best rhythm-and-blues single of 1965. The recording had been a number-one soul hit and had even reached number eight on the Billboard pop chart. It was both a culmination of Brown’s work since 1956, when he made his first recording for King Records King Records
Record labels;King , and a sign of a significant change in his music that would mark his work through the 1980’s. Funk music
“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (Brown)[Papas Got a Brand New Bag]
Grammy Awards
[kw]Brown Introduces Funk Music (Mar. 15, 1966)
[kw]Funk Music, Brown Introduces (Mar. 15, 1966)
[kw]Music, Brown Introduces Funk (Mar. 15, 1966)
Funk music
“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (Brown)[Papas Got a Brand New Bag]
Grammy Awards
[g]North America;Mar. 15, 1966: Brown Introduces Funk Music[08860]
[g]United States;Mar. 15, 1966: Brown Introduces Funk Music[08860]
[c]Music;Mar. 15, 1966: Brown Introduces Funk Music[08860]
Brown, James
Nathan, Syd
Bart, Ben

Brown had invented funk—a musical style that returned black music to its roots and eschewed some of the modified and more mainstream styles of the soul music of 1960’s, which often dabbled in crossover styles, sweetened musical textures, and pop instrumentation. Funk music utilizes an instrumental sound based on a hypnotically riffing band working off a one-chord style. Brown himself developed his band’s sound this way beginning in the mid-1960’s, with reeds and horns doing staccato bursts and an electric guitar playing choked chords.

From 1965 on, Brown experimented further with this kind of backing for his voice. His raw vocal style stemmed from hard black gospel influences and from the work of earlier rhythm-and-blues shouters. His rich baritone voice could reach into falsetto, could scream and shriek in the agony of his passionate love songs, and yet could also produce warm and caressing tones; his voice was an infinitely subtle and versatile instrument for his own compositions.

By 1965, he was a major figure, live and on record, among black audiences. His kinetic live show featured large bands and many backup singers, and his continuous movement and creative dancing had become the biggest draw in black show business. He could sing romantic, slow songs with a rich legato; he could do dance songs in which a minimum lyric was repeated over and over while his backing band built up tension with vamps and riffs and Brown gyrated all over the stage. He became famous as the “hardest working man in show business.”

A master of the one-nighter and the “chitlin’ circuit” of black venues, Brown never rested on his laurels; he endlessly reinvented his music. From the early days of rhythm and blues, he moved on to write compositions in the early 1960’s and later that would help define soul music, including upbeat songs with a tone and message of pride in black culture. Along with such performers as Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Aretha Franklin, he would epitomize soul. From 1965 on, he evolved his style into its funk phase, using a polyrhythmic bass and chanted and semispoken vocals that anticipated the development of rap music, yet he had always been inventive and gone his own way.

Born in rural poverty in Barnwell, South Carolina, in 1933 (just across the river from Augusta, Georgia, where he grew up), Brown was the child of a broken family. Imprisoned for petty theft in 1949, he spent three years rethinking the direction of his life and decided to pursue music. After his release, he joined a gospel group that became a local success; the band then altered its style to take advantage of the postwar popularity of rhythm and blues. Imitating the earlier jump-band stylings of Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five and heavily influenced by such performers as Little Richard and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Brown and his friends sought broader exposure than they could get around Augusta and Macon, Georgia. Their chance came in 1956, when a scout from King Records in Cincinnati listened to a demo of Brown’s own “Please, Please, Please” “Please, Please, Please” (Brown)[Please, Please, Please] and recommended them to label head Syd Nathan. Traveling to the Ohio studio, Brown and his vocal group, the Famous Flames, recorded the song with King studio musicians. “Please, Please, Please” made it to number five on the soul charts.

For Brown, Nathan became both a father figure and a challenge. Nathan was more comfortable with the less raw talents who were crossing over easily into the burgeoning rock-and-roll field. Nathan was an astute businessman who combined all the functions of recording and producing his records in one plant in Cincinnati. His producers scouted the South for talent and knew their market and its preferences. Yet Nathan simply seemed to think that Brown’s music was not polished enough to merit much attention or publicity. Fortunately for Brown, his relentless touring and his development of a masterful stage show gave him a security and base on which to build, independent of the whims of Nathan and his release schedule for singles—which were often issued long after they were cut in the studio.

In 1959, Brown signed a contract with Ben Bart, the agent and founder of Universal Attractions in New York. Experienced with black artists, Bart would become a more benign father figure for Brown, an astute business partner, and, later, Brown’s manager. Brown and Bart wanted to capture on record the full force of Brown’s live show, so his spontaneity and interaction with an audience could be conveyed to a wider home market. In 1962, they succeeded over the opposition of Nathan. Live at the Apollo
Live at the Apollo (Brown) became a huge hit album, even reaching a pop audience as number two on the Billboard chart. With his 1964 song “Out of Sight” he started to move his sound toward the funk style he would popularize the following year.


With the recognition he received as a Grammy winner, Brown started to appear on national television and to achieve more freedom at King Records, with which he remained affiliated until 1971. More live albums followed, and more pop success. A song such as “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (Brown)[Its a Mans Mans Mans World] was easily a number-one soul music hit, but it also managed to be a number-eight pop success. Brown, though, had never been an artist to stick to the formulas guaranteeing continued crossover acceptance. Going his own way, he began to further intensify his funk groove, changing band members and writing pieces of social commentary often called “message” songs.

As black popular music evolved in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Brown would be a pathfinder as well as an exemplar. Like other pioneer soul artists such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding, Brown helped bring the passionate singing styles of black gospel into secular music of black pride and awareness, but he differed from them in his sense of the need for a controlled and totally integral musical experience: song, backup instrumentation, dance, vocal backup, and audience interaction.

Brown’s recordings continued to reflect the diversity of his repertoire. His most enterprising material, though, turned out to be the socially conscious songs he wrote in the later 1960’s and into the 1970’s, when African Americans became increasingly involved with civil rights and initiatives and themes of black pride. Brown spearheaded the musical involvement of African Americans in this era. Performing more as a chanting or talking preacher and testifier than as a singer, Brown created a series of classics in the funk groove: “Get It Together,” “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing,” “Get Up, Get into It, and Get Involved,” “Soul Power,” “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and most remarkably, “King Heroin” and “Public Enemy #1,” in which he scorned drug-taking. In “Brother Rapp” and “Rapp Payback (Where Iz Moses),” from 1970 and 1980, respectively, Brown pioneered rap music. As early as 1966, he had put out his “Don’t Be a Dropout,” which addressed serious issues of black educational achievement.

While expanding soul music into funk and rap, Brown continued to sing passionate songs about the tensions in male-female relationships. Truly prodigious in the reach of his music-making and enduring exploration of styles, Brown expanded the possibilities of black expression and gave contemporaries such as Wilson Pickett the courage to take their hard gospel-based singing styles into a broader market. Never abandoning his African American cultural and musical roots, Brown was a tradition-based “man of words” who put an indelible mark on the American scene. Funk music
“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (Brown)[Papas Got a Brand New Bag]
Grammy Awards

Further Reading

  • Brown, James, with Bruce Tucker. James Brown: The Godfather of Soul. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2002. A fine autobiography with a newer introduction and a foreword by the Reverend Al Sharpton. Detailed, frank, and full, with attention to musical matters. Illustrations, full discography, index.
  • Burnim, Mellonee V., and Portia K. Maultsby, eds. African American Music: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2006. A comprehensive 707-page collection of essays exploring African American music, with one essay on funk music. Illustrations, bibliography, discography, index.
  • Charlton, Katherine. Rock Music Styles: A History. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2003. A survey of rock music, with chapters on funk, rhythm and blues, gospel, soul, and more. Illustrations, bibliography, discography, index.
  • George, Nelson. The Death of Rhythm and Blues. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988. George offers a tough and critical assessment of popular music in America as it relates to the co-optation and dilution of black roots. Illustrations, index.
  • Gillett, Charlie. The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll. Rev. ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. Seminal study of postwar popular music. Discography, index.
  • Guralnick, Peter. Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom. New York: Harper & Row, 1986. A study, with interviews, of the major soul music figures of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Illustrations, bibliography, discography, index.
  • Hirshey, Gerri. Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music. New ed. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994. Using interviews with major figures, Hirshey conveys the tensions and changes in black popular music over two decades. Pays major attention to Brown. Illustrations, indexed.
  • Shaw, Arnold. Black Popular Music in America: From the Spirituals, Minstrels, and Ragtime to Soul, Disco, and Hip-Hop. New York: Schirmer Books, 1986. Encyclopedic, yet readable all through. Conveys the complexity and richness of black music in an engrossing way. Provides a detailed picture of the interrelationships among types of music, helping to put soul music in perspective. Notes, bibliography, discography, index.
  • _______. Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues. New York: Macmillan, 1978. An excellent in-depth survey relying on interviews and Shaw’s longtime personal involvement in the field. Attention to the business side of music and the many small record labels involved. Discography, index.
  • _______. The World of Soul: Black America’s Contribution to the Pop Music Scene. New York: Cowles, 1970. A more general survey, with attention to blues and jazz precedents. Discography, index.
  • Thompson, Dave. Funk. San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2001. A 370-page critical and historical study of funk music, with discographies. Illustrations, bibliography, index.

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