James Brown | Digital Traditions

James Brown was born in 1933 in Barnwell, SC, where he spent his early childhood. He developed his interest in music at an early age, performing gospel songs and first playing piano and later bass and drums. By his teens, Brown joined a gospel quartet known as the Gospel Starlighters. Inspired by the growing popularity of rhythm and blues, Brown and fellow band-mate Bobby Byrd formed James Brown and His Famous Flames. Their signature song from 1959, "Please, Please, Please" led Brown to national attention. By 1962, Brown recorded his classic album "Live at the Apollo," which is rich in the call and response, shouting, and groaning style of the African American sermonic tradition. It clearly struck a chord with listeners, selling a million copies.

Brown's most famous music style, called "funk," plays heavily with traditional African American secular music forms, placing emphasis on the downbeat and taking traditional music to new levels.

Having journeyed far from his beginnings in rural South Carolina, achieving national and international popularity through music deeply rooted in African-American sacred and secular traditions, Brown returned home to South Carolina. The same strong heritage of traditional music and culture that provided a basis for his fame became a force that called Brown home. Brown passed away in 2006. He received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2002.