James Brown

image for James Brown
Exhibition Label
Born Barnwell, South Carolina
Called “the Godfather of Soul,” James Brown developed a trademark stage show featuring a twenty-piece band and backup singers. His signature sound showcased staccato horns, big bass, and as one critic wrote, “an ability to ‘scream’ on key.”
His high-energy performances became the touchstone for other performers of his generation: Brown would grab the microphone stand, slide into a split, pop back up, pirouette, and then alternate pulsating knee landings with flashing footwork until he collapsed in a heap. His singers would drape a cape over him and begin to carry him offstage when—presto! He would throw off the cape and take his performance into an even higher gear.
Brown’s biggest hits included “Night Train,” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and “Living in America.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the photographer, Milton Williams
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Object number
Milton Williams, born 20 May 1940
James Brown, 5 Mar 1933 - 25 Dec 2006
Equipment\Sound Devices\Microphone
Interior\Performing Arts\Theatrical\Stage
Music\Musical instrument\Drum
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
Gelatin silver print
Image: 35.2 x 23.5 cm (13 7/8 x 9 1/4")
Sheet: 35.2 x 28 cm (13 7/8 x 11")
Mat (Verified): 55.9 x 40.6 cm (22 x 16")
National Portrait Gallery