James Brown

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.

Object Details

Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
Artist
Diane Arbus, 14 Jul 1923 - 26 Jul 1971
Sitter
James Brown, 5 Mar 1933 - 25 Dec 2006
Date
1966
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Medium
Gelatin silver print
Dimensions
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")
Type
Photograph