James Brown would have turned 77 years old today. The self-proclaimed "Hardest Working Man in Show Business" passed away on Christmas Day in 2006, but his legacy still runs deep. Born in South Carolina, Brown was sent to live with his aunt Honey Washington in Georgia when he was six years old. It was that point that saw Brown's upbringing take a decidedly strange shift, as Washington ran a brothel and sold bootleg moonshine for a living. The brothel was where Brown gave his first performances and developed a love for singing and dancing. He kept honing his chops while in prison, where he was sent when he was only 15 years old. When he walked out of the detention center in 1953, he dabbled in professional boxing and baseball but ultimately decided to dedicate his life to music.
His first taste of success was with a group called the Famous Flames, who had a hit in 1956 with the single "Please Please Please." From there, his career was one hit after another. Signature tunes like "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" were crashing the Billboard chart by 1965. While most of Brown's early work skewed in the direction of R&B, Brown began experimenting with different sounds, rhythms and arrangements, essentially inventing funk music along the way. His singing also evolved from a deep croon to the more speech-inflected exclamations he became known for. In fact, some consider Brown to be a sort of ur-rapper, and considering how many of his songs have been sampled, he is deeply responsible for the rise of hip-hop.
Brown continued to perform regularly up until his death in 2006, but his work as a recording artist and — perhaps most importantly — a performer lives on. Many of Brown's songs have become standards that only he could truly pull off — like "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," a huge hit from 1966. Check out the live performance of the song below and marvel at Brown's easy charisma and stunning stage presence.