Brown’s hit Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) became a civil rights anthem during the 1960s and he performed the song at Richard Nixon’s inaugural ceremony in 1968, an act that temporarily hurt his popularity among young blacks.
He had more than 119 chart singles and recorded more than 50 albums, was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and received a lifetime achievement Grammy award in 1992.
Brown also built a successful business empire, including a string of radio stations and a production company, and owned a fleet of cars and an aircraft.
In 1980, he played the role of a manic preacher in the hit film The Blues Brothers.
“Soul is all the hard knocks, all the punishment the black man has had … all the unfulfilled dreams that must come true,” he once said.
He was chosen to be a member of President Reagan’s Council Against Drugs, but was arrested several times in the mid-1980s and 90s and charged with drug and weapons possession.
|Brown was arrested several times and charged
with drug and weapons possession [AFP]
By 1988 Brown, who had begun his music career in jail as a juvenile offender, was back behind bars, sentenced to six years for drug, weapons and driving charges after a car chase through Georgia and South Carolina, which ended with police shooting out the tyres of his vehicle. He left prison in 1991.
Brown emerged from a boyhood of extreme poverty and petty crime to become one of the biggest record-sellers in rhythm and blues.
“Feeling and flamboyance fused into calculated spontaneity,” a critic wrote of a Brown performance. He said that Brown danced like a dervish and sang with “an astounding range of primitive emotional sounds – grunts, groans, screeches, screams, wails”.
“Soul is all the hard knocks, all the punishment the black man has had … all the unfulfilled dreams that must come true”
Every record he made during 1960-77 reached the top-100. Big hits included Please, Please, Please, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, I Got You (I Feel Good), Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine) and It’s a Man’s World.
His 1985 hit Living in America,which was featured in the film Rocky IV, brought him a whole new generation of fans and his first Grammy.
He combined his music with a theatrical delivery. He also developed a trademark routine in which he would keep coming back on stage after a show and sing a few lines of Please, Please, Please with the sweat pouring from his bare-chested body.
His stage crew would throw a cape over his back and he would leave, only to reappear seconds later on his knees, moaning the song into the microphone. The routine would sometimes go on for 30-40 minutes and send his fans delirious.