James Brown: The Godfather of Funk
Explore how funk music was created, and how James Brown's music influenced hip hop.

Today’s Activities


James Brown is the “Godfather of Soul,” a founding father of funk music!

Have you heard the funk?

Listen to some of James Brown’s funky sound by clicking the links below: 

Examples of funk music by other artists:


Of the 1960s soul artists, one stood out for an especially distinct sound. James Brown had a strong voice but also focused his music much more heavily on a bold, syncopated rhythm. While rhythm had long been a staple of African American genres, Brown’s use was different. It was sharp, disproportionately heavily, and accentuated by the lyrics and Brown’s performance style. 

One of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century, James Brown started his musical career singing in the street as a child. He took up gospel music in prison and sang gospel before joining a rhythm and blues vocal group as the lead singer. Then in the 1960s, he began taking his music in a new direction, eventually known as funk.

Just as Brown’s funky style evolved from soul and R&B, it has inspired hip-hop and rap. Many of hip-hop’s beats come directly from funk.

How was funk music created?

Watch this video to learn more.

What do some of the words mean?


  • Bar rest: An interval of silence lasting for a bar of music.• Beat: As used in funk or hip-hop music, a beat is a drum pattern.
  • Blues scale: The blues scale is a 6-note scale that includes 5 notes from either the major or minor pentatonic scale with the addition of one note.
  • Offset: Adding syncopation to a piece of music.
  • Syncopation: Placing accents in music where they are not expected.


Discussion Questions:

Select 1 or 2 questions below and write a short response.  Feel free to use details from the video or go online to search for more information.

  1. What are some essential characteristics of funk music?
  2. What does it mean to “Put the emphasis on the 1?”
  3. What styles of music do you enjoy? What are some characteristics of a musical style that you enjoy?
  4. What styles of music do you play—or would like to learn to play?
  5. Have you ever collaborated with someone to create a beat or a song? What style was it? How did you collaborate?
  6. Nahre and LA brought different musical ideas together to create a song. What ideas would you bring to a collaboration?


Visit American Masters to Survivor to read Soul Survivor

Write a paragraph (or more) based on the following writing prompt:

How did James Brown’s early life experiences influence his career as a musician?



Want to learn more?

You can watch more about James Brown here.

How did James Brown’s music influence the development of hip hop?

Do you play an instrument?  Create your own funk music beat on guitar, instrument, brass, or a piano.  You can even drum your hands on the table using the elements of funk.

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