- Monica Berger
singer, songwriter, and bandleader. Born in Barnwell, South Carolina, to Joe Brown (né Gardner), a turpentine worker, and Susan Behlings, James Brown experienced extreme poverty in early childhood. His mother left the family when Brown was four. When he was six, he was sent to Augusta, Georgia, to live with an aunt who ran a brothel. In addition to picking cotton and shining shoes, the young Brown earned money by tap-dancing for World War II troops and by singing in talent contests.
As a teenager Brown broke into a car to steal a coat and was sentenced to eight to sixteen years in prison. He served three years and was released in 1953. He then sang in a doo-wop and gospel ensemble headed by Bobby Byrd Brown soon emerged as the lead singer and the band the Fabulous Flames wowed audiences with their dancing ...
A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present.