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Super Bad: The Enduring Influence of James Brown

Celebrating 85 years of the "Godfather of Soul."

Name pretty much any chart-topping song of the past few decades and you can probably trace it back — sometimes directly, sometimes through a more circuitous route — to James Brown. The late, great funk icon’s rise to fame and his turbulent personal life comprise a classic American story that captivates the world to this day. Born into poverty in Jim Crow-era South Carolina, Brown transformed himself into both the "Godfather of Soul” and "The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business." Here, FOTO celebrates Brown's unparalleled influence, through pictures and the words of musicians, friends, and those whose lives were forever changed by his music, his example, and his inimitable style.

“James Brown is a genius. ... I used to watch him on television and I used to get angry at the cameraman because whenever he would really start to dance they would be on a close-up so I couldn't see his feet. I'd shout, 'Show him! Show him!,' so I could watch and learn.” — Michael Jackson David Corio/Getty Images “James Brown is a genius. ... I used to watch him on television and I used to get angry at the cameraman because whenever he would really start to dance they would be on a close-up so I couldn't see his feet. I'd shout, 'Show him! Show him!,' so I could watch and learn.” — Michael Jackson “When I first saw James Brown in New York at the Apollo, I copied his moves straight away. I couldn’t really do them, but I did my versions.” — Mick Jagger Arthur Schatz/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images “When I first saw James Brown in New York at the Apollo, I copied his moves straight away. I couldn’t really do them, but I did my versions.” — Mick Jagger “I saw a James Brown concert at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, and I remember leaving the show, looking down at the curb and saying to myself, 'I'm going to play the guitar.' You'd figure I'd want to sing and dance because he was so badass. The greatest! For some reason, what I got out of it was, 'Play the guitar.' Must’ve been some Jedi mind s**t. And that was before there were even Jedis. That’s how badass JB was.” — Kevin Eubanks David Redfern/Redferns “I saw a James Brown concert at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, and I remember leaving the show, looking down at the curb and saying to myself, 'I'm going to play the guitar.' You'd figure I'd want to sing and dance because he was so badass. The greatest! For some reason, what I got out of it was, 'Play the guitar.' Must’ve been some Jedi mind s**t. And that was before there were even Jedis. That’s how badass JB was.” — Kevin Eubanks “Every James Brown cut makes a party get crazy. He's the god of all music. I always play different wild remixes of his songs because people start bugging out when they realize what I'm playing.” — Afrika Bambaataa Michael Ochs Archives “Every James Brown cut makes a party get crazy. He's the god of all music. I always play different wild remixes of his songs because people start bugging out when they realize what I'm playing.” — Afrika Bambaataa “I think what makes his story unique from others is there is not really one piece of American pop music you hear today that does not have some James Brown in it.” — Musician and novelist James McBride Christian SIMONPIÉTRI/Sygma via Getty Images “I think what makes his story unique from others is there is not really one piece of American pop music you hear today that does not have some James Brown in it.” — Musician and novelist James McBride “James Brown can get on the track and mumble all day. But guess what: You felt his soul on those records.” — Kendrick Lamar Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images “James Brown can get on the track and mumble all day. But guess what: You felt his soul on those records.” — Kendrick Lamar "What James Brown was to music in terms of soul and hip-hop, rap, all of that, is what Bach was to classical music. This is a guy who literally changed the music industry. He put everybody on a different beat, a different style of music. He pioneered it." — Rev. Al Sharpton Hulton Archive/Getty Images "What James Brown was to music in terms of soul and hip-hop, rap, all of that, is what Bach was to classical music. This is a guy who literally changed the music industry. He put everybody on a different beat, a different style of music. He pioneered it." — Rev. Al Sharpton “He treated me like a son. And being out of a fatherless home, I needed that father figure and he really played up to it. Every night after we played a show, he called us back to give us a lecture about how horrible we sounded. [Affects James Brown voice] 'Nah, not on it, son. I didn't hear the one. You didn't give me the one.' He would tell me this at every show. By telling me that I wasn't on it, he made me practice harder.” — Bootsy Collins Michael Ochs Archives “He treated me like a son. And being out of a fatherless home, I needed that father figure and he really played up to it. Every night after we played a show, he called us back to give us a lecture about how horrible we sounded. [Affects James Brown voice] 'Nah, not on it, son. I didn't hear the one. You didn't give me the one.' He would tell me this at every show. By telling me that I wasn't on it, he made me practice harder.” — Bootsy Collins “I think he had a profound sense of abandonment, and there was a part of him that was extremely courageous, that little kid being able to survive in the wilderness, in the woods. There’s a man inside that little boy, but there’s also a little boy inside the man.” — Chadwick Boseman, who played Brown in the 2014 biopic, "Get on Up" Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images “I think he had a profound sense of abandonment, and there was a part of him that was extremely courageous, that little kid being able to survive in the wilderness, in the woods. There’s a man inside that little boy, but there’s also a little boy inside the man.” — Chadwick Boseman, who played Brown in the 2014 biopic, "Get on Up" "He was dramatic to the end — dying on Christmas Day. He'll be all over the news all over the world today. He would have it no other way." — Jesse Jackson, quoted on the day of Brown's death in 2006 Richard E. Aaron/Redferns "He was dramatic to the end — dying on Christmas Day. He'll be all over the news all over the world today. He would have it no other way." — Jesse Jackson, quoted on the day of Brown's death in 2006 "He was an innovator, he was an emancipator, he was an originator. Rap music, all that stuff came from James Brown.” — Little Richard Tony Frank/Sygma via Getty Images "He was an innovator, he was an emancipator, he was an originator. Rap music, all that stuff came from James Brown.” — Little Richard