James Brown is born in Barnwell, South Carolina. He is raised in poverty in Augusta, Georgia, 40 miles away.
James Brown joins the Gospel Starlighters, a vocal quartet led by Bobby Byrd, after completing a four-year stint in prison for robbery. The group will change its focus from gospel to R&B and its name to the Famous Flames, as Brown becomes the focal point of the act.
The Famous Flames record “Please Please Please” at the studio of WIBB in Macon, Georgia.
Producer and talent scout Ralph Bass travels to Macon to sign James Brown to the King/Federal label, beating Leonard Chess (of Chess Records) to the punch.
James Brown and the Famous Flames cut “Please Please Please” at King/Federal studios in Cincinnati, backed by the label’s crack house band. James Brown’s recording debut rises to #5 on the R&B chart.
“Please, Please, Please,” James Brown’s first single for Syd Nathan’s Federal label (a King subsidiary), is released, thereby launching the career of this legendary soul singer.
“Please Please Please” by James Brown and the Famous Flames reaches #6 on the R&B charts.
After Little Richard abruptly quits rock and roll for religion, James Brown honors pending tour dates in the South in his place. Several members of Little Richard’s backup band, the Upsetters, become Famous Flames.
James Brown’s first #1 hit, “Try Me,” is released. It is the best-selling R&B single of 1958—and the first of 17 chart-topping R&B singles by Brown over the next two decades.
James Brown hits #35 with “Night Train”.
Against the objections of Syd Nathan, who felt that no one would be interested in a live album of previously released material, James Brown records his performance at New York’s Apollo Theater.
James Brown hits #18 with “Prisoner of Love”.
James Brown’s ‘Live at the Apollo, Vol. 1,’ is released. Reaching #2 on the album charts, it is the most successful album issued by Syd Nathan’s King Records. This same year, King/Federal releases albums by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Freddy King, Earl Bostic and the Stanley Brothers.
The concert film ‘The TAMI Show’ is recorded in Santa Monica, CA, featuring James Brown, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones and the Supremes.
James Brown reaches #3 with “I Got You (I Feel Good)”.
James Brown records “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” a revolutionary single that ushers in a whole new era of soul music. Released that summer, it tops the R&B chart for eight weeks and even cracks the pop Top Ten.
James Brown hits #8 with “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World”.
James Brown hit #7 with “Cold Sweat”.
Archie Bell & the Drells hit #1 with “Tighten Up”; Johnnie Taylor hits # 5 with “Who’s Makin Love”; James Brown hits # 6 with “I Got The Feelin’” and #10 with “Say It Loud - I’m Black and I’m Proud”; Sly & the Family Stone hit #8 with “Dance to the Music”
James Brown releases an album entitled ‘Thinking About Little Willie John and a Few Nice Things,’ a tribute to his recently deceased friend and King Records labelmate.
James Brown hits #11 with “Mother Popcorn”.
James Brown hits #15 with “Give It Up or Turn it Loose”.
James Brown hits #30 with “The Popcorn”.
“Get Up I Feel Like Being Like a Sex...” by James Brown hit #15.
James Brown hits #24 with “Ain’t It Funky Now (Part 1)”.
James Brown hits #15 with “Hot Pants”.
James Brown signs with Polydor Records, for which he’ll record extensively throughout the decade.
“Get On the Good Foot” tops the R&B chart for a month and peaks at #18 in the pop Top Forty. A gold-certified million seller, it establishes James Brown as a potent influence on black music in the Seventies—or, as he takes to calling himself, “the Godfather of Soul.”
‘The Payback’, the most successful of James Brown’s Seventies albums—many of which were double-LPs with lengthy, extended tracks—makes its debut on Billboard’s album chart. It is the only gold-certified (500,000 copies sold) album of his career.
Lloyd Price stages a music festival in Zaire, Africa, with boxing promoter Don King. The event attracts 120,000 people and offers James Brown, B.B. King, Etta James, Bill Withers, the Spinners and others.
James Brown, who has watched his sales figures slip in the disco era, attempts to move in on that market with The Original Disco Man, which only reaches #152 in the album chart.
James Brown contributes an unforgettable cameo as a manic preacher in the John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd film The Blues Brothers.
Bronx rapper Afrika Bambaataa teams up with James Brown to record the anthemic single “Unity.”
James Brown hits #4 with “Living in America”.
“Living in America,” the theme song from Rocky IV, reaches #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, becoming James Brown’s biggest pop hit since “I Got You (I Feel Good)” went to #3 in 1965.
James Brown is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the first induction dinner, held in New York City.
James Brown is sentenced to a six-year prison term after a year’s worth of arrests on various assault, drug possession and vehicular charges. He leaves prison on parole on February 27, 1991.
James Brown receives a Lifetime Achievement Award at the fourth annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards. MC Hammer is his presenter.
James Brown receives a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 34th annual Grammy Awards.
James Brown turns 70 years old.
James Brown receives Kennedy Center Honors.
James Brown headlines the Festival of the Golden Gate at Fort Mason in San Francisco. It is his final concert performance.
James Brown dies of heart failure brought on by pneumonia while hospitalized in Atlanta, Georgia.