Hisfather sent him to live with an aunt, who ran a house of prostitution. Even though Brown lived with relatives, he spent long stretches of time on his own, hanging out on the streets and hustling to get by. Brown managed to stay in school until he dropped out in the seventh grade.
During his childhood, Brown earned money shining shoes, sweeping out stores, selling and trading in oldstamps, washing cars and dishes and singing in talent contests. Brown also performed buck dances for change to entertain troops from Camp Gordon at the start of World War II as their convoys traveled over a canal bridge near his aunt's home. Between earning money from these adventures, Brown taught himself to play a harmonica given to him by his father. He learned to play some guitarfrom Tampa Red, in addition to learning to play piano and drums from others he met during this time. Brown was inspired to become an entertainer after watching Louis Jordan, a popular jazz and R&B performer during the 1940s, and Jordan's Tympany Five performing "Caldonia" in a short film.
As an adult, Brown legally changed his name to remove the "Jr." designation. In his spare time,Brown spent time practicing his various skills in Augusta-area stalls and committing petty crimes. At the age of sixteen, he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to a juvenile detention center upstate in Toccoa in 1949.
In 1952, while Brown was still in reform school, he met future R&B legend Bobby Byrd, who was there playing baseball against the reform school team. Byrd saw Brown performthere and admired his singing and performing talent. As a result of this friendship, Byrd's family helped Brown secure an early release after serving three years of his sentence. The authorities agreed to release Brown on the condition that he would get a job and not return to Augusta or Richmond County. After stints as a boxer and baseball pitcher in semi-professional baseball (a careermove ended by a leg injury), Brown turned his energy toward music
In 1955, Brown and Bobby Byrd's sister Sarah performed in a group called "The Gospel Starlighters". Eventually, Brown joined Bobby Byrd's vocal group, the Avons, and Byrd turned the group's sound towards secular rhythm and blues. After the group's name was changed to The Flames, Brown and Byrd's group toured the Southern "chitlin'circuit". The group eventually signed a deal with the Cincinnati, Ohio-based label Federal Records, a sister label of King Records. Brown's early recordings were fairly straightforward gospel-inspired R&B compositions, heavily influenced by the work of contemporary musicians such as Ray Charles, Little Willie John, Clyde McPhatter and Little Richard.
In 1962, the singer Tammi Terrell came to theattention of James Brown and the seventeen-year-old found herself in Brown's popular Revue becoming one of Brown's first female headliners. In 1963, Terrell recorded for Brown's Try Me Records, releasing the ballad, "I Cried", which gave her some chart success. Terrell and Brown also had a personal relationship, which was hampered by Brown's physical abuse towards her. After a horrific incidentbackstage after a show, Terrell asked singer Gene Chandler (the "Duke of Earl"), who witnessed the incident first hand) to take her to the bus station so she could go home. He later called her mother to come pick her up. This ended Terrell's two-year relationship with Brown. Brown scored on the charts in the early 1960s with recordings such as his 1962 cover of "Night Train". While Brown's early...