James Brown, photographed in 1970. James Joseph Brown (1933-2006) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and recording artist. He is the originator of funk music and is a major figure of 20th century popular music and dance. He has been referred to by himself and by others as 'The Godfather of Soul', 'Mr. Dynamite', 'Soul Brother Number One' and 'The Hardest Working Man in Show Business'.