The singer, composer, and bandleader Bobby Byrd’s life and career were closely intertwined with those of James Brown.
Growing up together in Toccoa, Georgia, Byrd gave Brown his first break by inviting him to join the Famous Flames—the vocal group founded by Byrd—after his family took a young Brown into their home following a prison term served for robbery.
After Brown seized the frontman spot, and after he briefly dismissed the Flames altogether, Byrd went on to play an integral role in Brown’s career both on stage and off for the next ten years, providing vocal counterpoint and musical leadership while also serving as an intermediary between the singers, musicians, and dancers employed by Brown.
Known for his catch phrase “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing”, Byrd was widely loved and respected. Although he carved out a modest solo career, if he had been associated with the writers, producers, and musicians at a label like Atlantic or Stax, today he would be remembered alongside the likes of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Solomon Burke. His bond with Brown was perhaps both blessing and curse, but their shared background, struggles, and successes made the bond nearly inevitable.
This according to “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing: Bobby Byrd (1934–2007)” by Alan Leeds (Wax poetics 26 [December/January 2007/2008] pp. 36–39.
Today is Byrd’s 80th birthday! Above, Bobby Byrd by Thomas Halfmann is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Below, with the JB All-Stars in 1989).
Charles “Cholly” Atkins was a tap dancing star before the bottom dropped out for the genre in the 1940s.
In 1953 he was hired to coach the Cadillacs on their stage presentation, and he was so successful that he was given a steady job at Motown Records in the early 1960s; he went on to coach and choreograph for their top groups, including The Supremes, The Temptations, and Gladys Knight and the Pips, almost single-handedly keeping much of American vernacular dance alive for a new generation.
This according to “‘Let the punishment fit the crime’: The vocal choreography of Cholly Atkins” by Jacqui Malone (Dance research journal XX/1 [summer 1988] pp. 11–18).
Today is Atkins’s 100th birthday! Below, rehearsing with The Temptations in 1986.
BONUS: The celebrated duo Coles & Atkins (Atkins is on the right).
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This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here for a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.