Gone But Not Forgotten: Rick James
February 19, 1948 - August 6, 2004
Born James Ambrose Johnson on February 1, 1948, the artist we know as Rick James was third of eight children raised by a single mother. His uncle was Melvin Franklin, the bass vocalist of the Temptations. Young Rick started singing in Doo Wop groups as a teenager in Buffalo, NY. When James left the US Navy for Toronto in 1964 he formed the R&B/Rock band "The Mynah Birds" which also included Neil Young, Bruce Palmer and Nick St. Nicholas. While recording with the group James was discovered and returned to serve a prison sentence for going AWOL. He returned to the group in 1968 in California after his term was up. When the Mynah Birds split up, James was using the name Terry Johnson to write and produce and played bass in multiple short-lived bands.
In 1977 James joined Motown under the Gordy Records label and released his first album, Come Get It! in 1978 which had the hits "Mary Jane" and "You and I". 1981's Street Songs powered Rick James into the mainstream with hit singles "Give it to Me Baby" and "Super Freak." Rick James earned the title, The King of Punk Funk, and helped launch or further the careers of many other performers including Teena Marie and The Mary Jane Girls. He also wrote and produced songs for Eddie Murphy, Smokey Robinson and The Temptations.
In the 1990s, Rick James was having serious issues with cocaine addiction. He was convicted and served three years in prison for assaulting two women. James suffered a mild stroke in 1998 after his release that cut down his performing career for some time. In the early 2000s, Rick James was also parodied and featured on the Chappelle show. James died after suffering pulmonary and cardiac failure at his home in Burbank, CA on August 6, 2004 at the age of 56.