Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

James Brown’s life and career timeline

1933

James Brown is born in South Carolina on May 3.

1933
1938

Moves into his Aunt Honey's house, a brothel, at 944 Twiggs Street in Augusta, Georgia.

1938
1940

Taught "some piano" by a neighborhood friend, Robert Graham, Jr.

1940
1944

Enters the amateur night competition at Lenox Theater and wins first prize.

1944
1949

Caught breaking into cars in Augusta, Georgia, he is sentenced to eight to 16 years' hard labor. Forms a gospel quartet while in prison.

1949
1952

Paroled early for good behavior on June 14. Works at Lawson Motors and moves in with the Byrd family temporarily.

1952
1953

Joins Bobby Bryd's musical group, later named the Famous Flames. A King Records talent scout hears their song demo. Marries Velma Warren in June.

1953
1956

"Please Please Please" is released on Federal Records in March; it eventually sells over a million copies.

1956
1957

His manager, Ben Bart, renames the group James Brown and the Famous Flames.

1957
1958

Single "Try Me" is released in October; it reaches number one on the R and B charts.

1958
1959

First performs at the Apollo Theatre on April 24. The album TRY ME is released. Dubbed "the hardest-working man in show business" by "Fats" Gonder.

1959
1960

AMERICAN BANDSTAND marks his first appearance on national TV.

1960
1963

LIVE AT THE APOLLO and PRISONER OF LOVE are released; the single, "Prisoner of Love," reaches the top 20 on the pop charts.

1963
1964

"Out of Sight" is recorded in June and becomes one of his biggest hits. Performs on THE T.A.M.I. SHOW in November and outshines the Rolling Stones.

1964
1965

Records "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag"; signs a new contact with King Records in the summer.

1965
1966

Releases "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and "Don't Be a Drop-Out." Performs on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW and at a benefit concert for the "March Against Fear."

1966
1967

Album COLD SWEAT is released in July.

1967
1968

Buys his first radio station. Manager Ben Bart dies. Performs for the troops in Vietnam. "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud" becomes a million-seller.

1968
1969

"Give It Up or Turnit a Loose" released. Opens two Gold Platter restaurants. Performs at the Newport Jazz Festival in July. Velma and he divorce.

1969
1970

Album SEX MACHINE released in September; disputes over money cause many band members to leave. Marries his second wife, Deirdre Jenkins.

1970
1971

Fred Wesley becomes his band leader. Signs with Polydor Records when King Records is sold to them. "Hot Pants" is released in July.

1971
1972

"Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing," "King Heroin," and "Get on the Good Foot" are released. Endorses the reelection of President Nixon.

1972
1973

His son, Teddy, dies in a car crash on June 14. IRS claims he owes $4.5 million in back taxes for 1969 and 1970.

1973
1974

Goes to Zaire for the music festival that coincides with the Ali-Foreman fight; releases "Funky President (People It's Bad)" about President Ford.

1974
1978

His wife Deirdre leaves him.

1978
1980

Plays a preacher in the film THE BLUES BROTHERS.

1980
1984

Records "Unity" with Afrika Bambaataa. Marries his third wife, Adrienne Rodriguez.

1984
1985

Has a hit single with "Living in America" from ROCKY IV.

1985
1986

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1986
1988

Arrested on drug charges and for assaulting his wife; involved in a police chase from Georgia to South Carolina; sentenced to prison.

1988
1991

Paroled from prison on February 27.

1991
1996

His wife Adrienne dies following plastic surgery.

1996
2001

Marries Tomi Rae Hynie, a backup singer in his band, and they have a son, James Brown II.

2001
SHARE

© 2022 WNET. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.