The Life and Music of James Brown
By RJ Smith
(Gotham, Hardcover, 9781592406579, 464pp.)
Publication Date: March 15, 2012
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The definitive biography of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, with fascinating findings on his life as a Civil Rights activist, an entrepreneur, and the most innovative musician of our time
Playing 350 shows a year at his peak, with more than forty Billboard hits, James Brown was a dazzling showman who transformed American music. His life offstage was just as vibrant, and until now no biographer has delivered a complete profile. The One draws on interviews with more than 100 people who knew Brown personally or played with him professionally. Using these sources, award-winning writer RJ Smith draws a portrait of a man whose twisted and amazing life helps us to understand the music he made.
The One delves deeply into the story of a man who was raised in abject-almost medieval-poverty in the segregated South but grew up to earn (and lose) several fortunes. Covering everything from Brown's unconventional childhood (his aunt ran a bordello), to his role in the Black Power movement, which used "Say It Loud (I'm Black and Proud)" as its anthem, to his high-profile friendships, to his complicated family life, Smith's meticulous research and sparkling prose blend biography with a cultural history of a pivotal era.
At the heart of The One is Brown's musical genius. He had crucial influence as an artist during at least three decades; he inspires pity, awe, and revulsion. As Smith traces the legend's reinvention of funk, soul, R&B, and pop, he gives this history a melody all its own.
RJ Smith has been a senior editor at Los Angeles magazine, a contributor to Blender, a columnist for The Village Voice, a staff writer for Spin, and has written for GQ, The New York Times Magazine, and Men's Vogue. His first book, The Great Black Way: LA in the 1940s and the Lost African- American Renaissance, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and recipient of a California Book Award. He lives in Los Angeles.
"The One: The Life and Music of James Brown crackles with the same kind of exuberant energy that explodes out of grooves of one of the Godfather of Soul's classic sides."
-The Boston Globe
"[A] showstopper...This book's sparkle speaks for itself."
-The New York Times
A “Top Spring Music Choice” and a “…compelling and detailed portrait of one of our greatest musicians… Smith’s compelling and detailed portrait of one of our greatest musicians reveals affectionately and honestly the reasons we jump up every time ‘I Feel Good’ comes on the radio.”
"This bio should be a cornerstone of soul-music-literature collections."
“The rhythm revolutionary who changed pop forever finally gets he bio he deserves...A biography as illuminating as it is definitive.” (4.5 Stars)
-New York Post
“R.J. Smith, a Los Angeles-based music journalist and author of the new book The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, may have come closer than anyone to understanding how James Brown became James Brown.”
-The Christian Science Monitor
"Unflinching portrait of the conflicted and contradictory superstar...untangl[es] the psychological elements that came together to make James Brown, tracing his almost prescient ability to read audiences back to his days dancing for spare change from sailors and growing up in Georgia with a violent, unpredictable father.”
“Great telling of a really interesting man...captures the rhythm of the man”
-On Point, WBUR
One of the "Best New Books Around the South"
-Atlanta Journal Constitution
“Smith never loses the beat.”
-Los Angeles Magazine
"The late James Brown famously said, 'The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing.' Not your bag? Read The One (Gotham), RJ Smith’s supreme, sublime biography of the Godfather of Soul—son of the segregated South, social activist, go-for-broke businessman, self-professed thug—and you’ll get up offa that thing."
“The imperatives of biography are to record, to correct and to carve out historical significance, and Smith’s lively account succeeds on all three fronts.”
"RJ Smith's authoritative, keenly intelligent bio of one of the most protean of American musical giants."