October 29th, 2003
James Brown: Life and Times
Procedures for Teachers


Media Components

Computer Resources:

  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM and/or Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.

Bookmarked sites:

Bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson and create a word processing document listing all of the links to distribute to students. Preview all of the sites and videos before presenting them to your class.


Teachers will need the following supplies:

  • Television and VCRr
  • Internet access
  • Poster paper
  • Markers or colored pencils


Introductory Activity:

Before viewing the American Masters program about James Brown, involve students in a class discussion about soul music. Ask the students how they would define it and what images come to mind when they think of soul music.

Learning Activities:

1. After watching the program, engage the students in a discussion about how James Brown’s style of music was influenced by the time and place of his birth, his ethnicity, and his family environment.

2. Discuss the section of the program where Reverend Al Sharpton describes James Brown as the “one thread that goes from the little church in Barnwell, South Carolina, to the hip-hop concert in the [Madison Square] Garden.” Explain to the students that they are going to create a collage based on this quote. Working in small groups, the students will create collage posters that combine photographs of a specific time period in U.S. history with lyrics from James Brown’s songs. By combining the images and lyrics into a collage, they will create an image that captures the essence of the period and how it was reflected in the songs Brown performed and recorded. After the groups have completed their collages, hang the works on the wall in chronological order to create a timeline.

(Note to Teachers: Instead of printing photographs from the Internet, the students may choose to create drawings based on photographs. The students may look in magazines or do an Internet search to find photographs of hip-hop and rap artists. Depending on your class size, it may be necessary to create more than one timeline.)

3. Divide the class into small groups. The number of groups created must be divisible by three so that the individual collages can be connected together to create a complete timeline. Assign each group one of the time periods listed below. Tell the students that after the collage is completed, they will be responsible for giving a brief talk to teach the rest of the class about what was happening in the United States at this time and give examples of how the events or concerns of the era were reflected in James Brown’s music.

  • Collage 1
    Segregation: In JAMES BROWN: SOUL SURVIVOR, Little Richard discusses the system of apartheid, known as Jim Crow, that African Americans lived under in the United States. Research racial segregation in the United States. Collect photographs of the Jim Crow era from the American Memory Web site (http://memory.loc.gov/) or other sources. Read or listen to the lyrics of James Brown’s songs and select phrases that capture the essence of this time period. Illustrate how current events influenced the songs James Brown recorded.

  • Collage 2
    Civil Rights Movement: The line “some of us would rather die on our feet than live on our knees,” from the song “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud,” expressed what many African Americans were feeling during the fight for civil rights. Research the civil rights movement in the United States. Collect photographs of this time period from the American Memory Web site (http://memory.loc.gov/) or other sources. Read or listen to the lyrics of James Brown’s songs and select phrases that capture the essence of this time period. Illustrate how the civil rights movement influenced the songs James Brown recorded.

  • Collage 3
    Hip-hop and Current Struggles: In the program, one of the featured music critics states that there would be no hip-hop without James Brown, and the artist himself contends that today’s rap and hip-hop are just an extension of what he’s been doing for years, “rapping over a funky beat about pride, anger, and respect.” Find pictures from magazines or the Internet that capture hip-hop culture and pair them with lyrics from James Brown’s songs to demonstrate the influence that he had on this musical genre.

4. Tell the students that these Web sites might be helpful for finding images and lyrics for their collages.

5. Pass out a sheet of poster paper to each group and ask the students to create their collage.

6. After the groups have completed their collages, connect the posters to form the timeline. Provide time for each group to explain its poster to the rest of the class.

Critical Thinking Questions/Assessment:

1. Divide the class into pairs and ask them to do a Think/Pair/Share activity based on the following questions:

  • James Brown said that he wanted to be felt, not just accepted. Do you think he accomplished this? Explain.
  • Why do you think this program was entitled Soul Survivor? Explain.
  • James Brown said, “Self-preservation is the first rule of survival.” Do you agree with him? Explain.

2. After the students have shared their thoughts on these questions, bring them together and discuss the questions as a class.

3. Write this quote from the James Brown — The Godfather of Soul Web site on the board:

“Everybody’s got soul! Everybody doesn’t have the same culture to draw from, but everybody’s got soul.”

4. Ask the students to write a personal response to the quote that details how they’ve “got soul.” The response should be a minimum of one page.

Extension Activity:

Share the following thoughts on education, expressed by James Brown, with the students:

“I want to say to the young kids: education may be hard today, but if you go through it today, tomorrow will be easy. If you don’t go through it today, it will be harder.”

Ask the students to create a “Don’t Be a Drop-Out” campaign that incorporates information about James Brown’s life, and why he thinks it is important for kids to stay in school.

Inside This Lesson


Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2015 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.