Growing up in Georgia during the Depression, Brown first sang and danced on street corners for money. He later formed a group, appearing at small clubs throughout the South. He gradually evolved a highly personal style, combining blues and gospel music elements with his own emotionally charged and highly rhythmic delivery, accented by a strong sense of showmanship.
His first hit, “Please, Please, Please” (1956), was followed by other million-selling singles, including “Papa's Got a Brand New Bag”; his style, marked by strong dance-oriented rhythms and heavy syncopation, became known as funk. His checkered personal life included charges of drug use and a period of imprisonment for a 1988 high-speed highway chase in which he tried to escape pursuing officers. Brown, whose sobriquets included “the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business” and “the Godfather of Soul,” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.