Smithsonian Collections

James Brown

Image for James Brown
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
Exhibition Label
James Brown invented funk and set the standard for dynamic live performance in American music. Inspired by preachers in the black church, Brown started out singing in gospel quartets. As the "Godfather of Soul," he transmuted gospel into secular music centered in the emotional conduit of the soul singer. As "the hardest working man in show business," Brown turned ballads into virtuosic theatrical turns—falling hard on his knees, busting into splits and half spins, popping the mike to the floor and back, each move ratcheting up the song’s emotional intensity. As "Soul Brother No. 1," Brown acted as a cultural leader, writing hit songs calling for racial pride. With funk, Brown created a stripped-down, rhythmically driven aesthetic that has influenced world music from reggae to Afrobeat. Much of popular music since the 1960s comes through James Brown’s moves and grooves. Hip-hop is unimaginable without him.
Diane Arbus, 1923 - 1971
James Brown, 5 Mar 1933 - 25 Dec 2006
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.3 x 25.6cm (10 3/8 x 10 1/16")
Sheet: 35.4 x 27.8cm (13 15/16 x 10 15/16")
Mat: 55.9 x 40.6cm (22 x 16")
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Object number
Interior\Performing Arts\Concert hall
James Brown: Male
James Brown: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Songwriter
James Brown: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Singer\Popular
James Brown: Performing Arts\Performer\Dancer
James Brown: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Singer\Rhythm and Blues
James Brown: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Bandmaster
United States\New York\Kings\New York
Restrictions & Rights
© 1966 The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC