James Brown was the Godfather of Soul, one of the most influential musicians in the history of popular music. We remember Brown’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who died this day in history.
James Brown was the Godfather of Soul, one of the most influential musicians in the history of popular music. He all but invented funk music, with innovative songs like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” and he contributed to the development of rock ‘n’ roll, soul, and more. He was an icon of civil rights who helped catalyze the black pride movement, and he was an activist for education. We remember Brown’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who died this day in history.
2015: George Clayton Johnson, U.S. science fiction author who co-wrote “Logan’s Run” and wrote for “The Twilight Zone,” dies at 86.
2009: James Victor “Vic” Chesnutt, U.S. singer-songwriter whose albums include “About To Choke” and “Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation,” dies of an overdose of muscle relaxants at 45.
Chesnutt, 45, was partially paralyzed and had used a wheelchair since age 18, when he was involved in a car accident. He started writing songs as a child and released his debut album, “Little,” in 1990. R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe was the record’s producer. Read more
2008: Eartha Kitt, U.S. actress and singer whose songs include “C’est Si Bon” and “Santa Baby,” dies of colon cancer at 81.
Kitt was a model for singers who followed her, such as Diana Ross. Kitt’s “pitch was remarkably clean, and she would bend it, very often sharp, with slow deliberation,” The Guardian newspaper said. “She said she understood everything her voice could and couldn’t do. She played off a gritty chest register against a cooing falsetto, and as she savoured its sound, she would experiment with verbal distortions.” Read more
2006: James Brown, aka the Godfather of Soul, U.S. rhythm and blues, soul, and funk singer whose songs included “Please, Please, Please,” “Try Me,” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” dies of heart failure and pneumonia at 73.
Brown died Christmas Day. We loved the Godfather of Soul while he was alive, and we still love him now. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other winter holiday, we hope you’re having a very funky day today. Read more
1998: Bryan MacLean, U.S. singer-songwriter whose songs for the rock band Love include “Alone Again Or,” “Old Man,” and “Orange Skies,” dies of a heart attack at 52.
2005: Derek Bailey, English avant-garde jazz guitar virtuoso, dies at 75.
1997: Denver Pyle, U.S. actor whose TV credits include “The Dukes of Hazzard, “The Doris Day Show,” and several episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show,” dies of lung cancer at 77.
1996: JonBenet Ramsey, child beauty pageant queen, is murdered in her Boulder, Colorado, home at 6.
Too many children’s names are known because of how they died rather than what they did while they lived – and JonBenét Ramsey is one of them. If we could make one Christmas wish, we’d wish for an end to this kind of tragedy. Read more
1995: Dean Martin, born Dino Paul Crocetti, U.S. entertainer, singer, and actor whose songs include “That’s Amore,” “Volare,” and “Everybody Loves Somebody,” dies of emphysema at 78.
In his early nightclub days, Martin copied the styles of other top performers such as Bing Crosby and Perry Como. Eventually, he matured into his own distinctive sound, and his music career really started to move. Today, even more than his work in movies or comedy, he’s remembered for his smooth voice and effortless style on classics including “That’s Amore,” “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside” – and, of course, his signature song, “Everybody Loves Somebody.” Read more
1989: Billy Martin, U.S. Major League Baseball second baseman who went on to manage the New York Yankees five times, including in 1977 when the team won the World Series, dies at 61 in a low-speed auto accident.
1983: Joan Miro, Spanish surrealist painter whose works include “The Farm,” “The Reaper,” and “The Tilled Field,” dies at 90.
1979: Joan Blondell, U.S. actress whose films include “The Blue Veil,” “Gold Diggers of 1933,” and “Grease,” dies of leukemia at 73.
1979: Lee Bowman, U.S. actor whose films include “Love Affair,” “A Man To Remember,” and “Tonight and Every Night,” dies of a heart attack three days before his 65th birthday.
1977: Charlie Chaplin, iconic British actor who created the Tramp film character during the silent era, dies at 88 after having a stroke in his sleep.
The man behind the mustache was as much an underdog as any character he ever played. The youngest son of two English performers, Chaplin and his brother were thrust into a Dickensian world of workhouses and residential schools after the death of their father and subsequent mental breakdown of their mother. At 8, Chaplin used his parents’ contacts in the performing world to join a clog dancing group, which led to legitimate work in theater and vaudeville. In 1910, his vaudeville career took him to America, and soon he was under contract to appear in films for the Keystone Film Co., headed by cinema pioneer Mack Sennett. Read more
1957: Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., U.S. landscape architect and an advocate for wildlife conservation and national parks, dies at 87.
1954: John M. Alexander Jr., U.S. rhythm and blues singer who went by the stage name Johnny Ace and recorded “My Song,” dies at 25 of an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
1951: Harry T. Moore, U.S. civil rights pioneer who founded the first chapter of the NAACP, is killed at 46 after Ku Klux Klan members bomb his house.
1946: William C. Dukenfield, aka W.C. Fields, U.S. writer and comedian whose films include “The Bank Dick” and “It’s a Gift,” dies of an alcohol-related stomach bleed at 66.
1940: Agnes Ayres, U.S. film actress during the silent era who played Lady Diana Mayo in “The Sheik” starring Rudolph Valentino, dies of a cerebral bleed at 42.
1868: Linus Yale, U.S. mechanical engineer who invented the cylinder lock, dies of a heart attack at 47.