Artwork by Kelly Sullivan

The hardest working man in show business has died at the age of 73. James Brown was the father of funk music, the grandfather of soul, a visionary in the music industry. He overcame tremendous odds of the post-depression and Jim Crow eras to become one of the most successful musicians in American history. Little Richard, one of his protegees, says of Brown: “He was an innovator, he was an emancipator, he was an originator.” These are all qualities that we associate with the planet Uranus – the planet of radical change, rebellion, innovation, freedom.

James Brown was certainly a rebel: he was well-known for his brushes with the law both as a young person when he spent time in prison for armed robbery, and in his later years when he was arrested for assault and served more prison time. His childhood was less than stable; after his parents split up when he was four he went to live with his aunt in a brothel. He was married four times and was accused by several of his wives of being a violent husband; he was once quoted as saying women should be controlled and “must know their limitations.” But despite the bad publicity of his personal life, the brilliance of his craft dominated the music industry for over 50 years.

In order to create a viable astrological profile for an individual we need a correct birthdate, and this can be difficult with celebrities who for various reasons often falsify their age. Biographies of James Brown give the year of his birth as either 1928 (Wikipedia) or 1933 (most other sources). One article reports that in his early years Brown used a fake ID to appear older which accounts for the earlier birthdate. The charts for the two years are remarkably different and may solve the riddle of his birth year.

The birthchart is a map of the sky at the time an individual was born, and the angles that the planets made to each other on that day offer clues and insight into the psychological makeup of that individual. We call these angles “aspects,” and there are harmonious aspects, where the planets work together well and provide ease in one’s life, and challenging aspects which create conflict and stress. It may seem as though the harmonious aspects are good and the challenging aspects are bad, but this rarely the case. An individual with a preponderance of harmonious aspects rarely becomes famous or successful – the ease in the chart creates an inertia that can be difficult to overcome. A difficult chart with lots of challenging aspects offers periods of crisis which creates change and personal evolution. The tension of these difficult periods hold within them a powerful and dynamic energy which is why we usually see several difficult aspects in the charts of famous people.

The 1928 chart for James Brown shows an individual who is highly intelligent and stable (Sun conjunct Mercury in Taurus with no challenging aspects to the Sun). Venus is conjunct Jupiter in this chart: the two benefiic planets that bestow good fortune and happy (Jupiter) relationships (Venus). Mars (aggression and drive) is squared by Saturn (restriction and limitation), a challenging aspect showing some frustration in accomplishing his desires, but Mars is trined (harmonious aspect) by Pluto’s transformational quality. Where we would expect Uranus to be prominent in Brown’s chart for reasons mentioned above, it is unaspected in the 1928 chart suggesting an individual who is a bit of a loner, expressing the rebellion of Uranus quietly and privately rather than creating new musical trends and visions.

The 1933 chart is much more dynamic. The Sun is conjunct Venus in Taurus, indicating an individual who is very attractive to others; however, this conjunction is in difficult aspect (square) to Saturn. Saturn in square to the Sun shows an individual whose early life was difficult and lonely, and who has a deep inner insecurity. Saturn square Venus suggests that this insecurity extends to his confidence that he will be loved by others. A harmonious aspect between Jupiter and the Sun/Venus conjunction offers an inner optimism and good fortune, but Jupiter is retrograde which shows that he was often unable to recognize that good fortune when it came to him. There is a deep insecurity here as well as an inability to bond with others despite the radiance that others see in him.

Depending on the time of day that he was born, either Saturn (in the morning) or Chiron (in the afternoon) was in difficult aspect to his Moon, mirroring the early rejection from his mother when he was sent to live in the brothel. This is a man with a difficult relationship to women (Moon) and a deep hole in his heart.

The radical influence Uranus is prominent in this chart, conjunct Mercury in Aries and squared by Pluto. Mercury in Aries is an individual with the courage (Aries) to express his thoughts (Mercury), and the combination with the radical vision of Uranus creates a fiery creativity that is unique and different. The square of Uranus to Pluto that occurred between 1932 and 1934 was a time of radical (Uranus) transformation (Pluto) similar to the early 1960s when Uranus was conjunct Pluto. Individuals born with this placement in their charts carry the archetype of cultural change within them; they are pushed from within to constantly push the envelope. In Brown’s chart, his communication process as represented by Mercury is tied into this dynamic, showing that he uses his ideas (Mercury) to create this cultural transformation. Uranus is socially conscious and strives for greater equality of the human condition, and Brown’s music was centered around these ideals.

Normally we would see a strong Neptune in the chart of a musician and Neptune is widely square Brown’s Sun and Venus. The music was important, but James Brown’s legacy is first as an innovator and visionary as described by Uranus and Mercury. His inspiration became the foundation of popular music worldwide.

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