James Brown was clearly influenced by classic blues, gospel, and African-American folk music. Brown knew he wanted to become an entertainer after watching performance footage of the popular jazz and R&B singer Louis Jordan. He was also certainly influenced by artists like Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and Little Richard, though these musical contemporaries would have been just as influenced by James Brown as he was by them.
The real story with Brown is the way in which he revolutionized music, influencing just about every strain of pop music that would follow. He influenced musicians like Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Public Enemy, among others. According to the man himself
, "Disco is James Brown, hip-hop is James Brown, rap is James Brown; you know what I'm saying? You hear all the rappers, 90 percent of their music is me." While this may sound more than a bit egotistical, it's hard to say he's wrong. Brown not only directly helped create the genres of soul, funk, and modern R&B, he indirectly influenced an even wider range of artists, encouraging musicians to follow the rhythm and the groove rather than simply adhering to typical musical conventions and structure. Brown's music was sampled by innumerable hip-hop producers and DJs throughout the 1980s and 1990s, helping establish rap as a viable musical form. Even techno is indebted to James Brown. As a testament to his wide-ranging impact on modern pop music, Rolling Stone
named Brown #7 on their list of the Most Influential Artists of All Time. And even the academics are getting into the act; recently Princeton University devoted an entire conference to the study of James Brown. Now that's a lecture we could definitely sit through.