How Many Times Was James Brown Married?

James Brown was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. His unique developments on R&B and gospel revolutionized soul and paved the way for the genre of funk — earning him the nickname of the Godfather of Soul.

He combined his musicianship with a social and racial consciousness that was massively influential to musicians both in his own time and later. With that level of importance and influence that James Brown had, understanding his legacy and the music that he made fully involves an understanding of the life of the man himself, from his artistic influences to his political and social activism to his personal life.

So what kind of romantic life did the Godfather of Soul lead? What were his personal relationships like, and did they impact his music?

James Brown smiling in a black and white photo
James Brown | Evening Standard/Getty Images

James Brown’s origin

Brown came from humble origins and created a major legacy for himself, as well as a large amount of wealth. He was born to an impoverished family in South Carolina and witnessed domestic abuse in his childhood. Though his childhood was difficult, and he did not complete school, Brown soon found that he had a talent for singing, and when he was in jail on charges of robbery, he received freedom in exchange for his promise to sing gospel.

Throughout the 1950s he made his name as a gospel singer, then an R&B musician. He found great success in the various groups he was involved in, and in the 1960s he began to experiment more with his music style. In the late 1960s was when Brown developed the sound that would come to be described as ‘funk,’ with the song Cold Sweat.

Into the 1970s Brown would continue to be a massive figure in the music world and beyond. He became more vocal with his political beliefs, something which at times sparked controversy, and he also expanded into writing soundtrack music for the growing Blaxploitation film genre. However, he began to spend less and less time in the entertainment world, and also faced legal troubles going into the 1990s.

James Brown’s first marriages

Brown was actually married four separate times, on top of numerous other relationships. His first marriage was in 1953 to a woman named Velma Warren. The couple had three children, but they were separated by 1969 when they finalized their divorce. However, this divorce was likely amicable, and the two remained friends until Brown’s death.

A year later, Brown married a woman named Deirdre Jenkins and had two more children. However, this relationship involved domestic abuse, which gave Deirdre cause to divorce Brown in 1981.

James Brown’s later marriages

Brown’s third marriage happened in 1984 to Adrienne Lois Rodriguez. In this marriage, Brown’s abusive tendencies became more publicly known. The two nearly divorced in 1988, though the divorce was canceled and the marriage only ended with Rodriguez’s death in 1996.

Shortly after, Brown married a woman who had recently become one of his background singers: Tomi Rae Hynie. This marriage was complicated by legal issues surrounding a previous marriage of Hynie’s. Hynie had previously been married and did not officially annul that marriage until two years after her marriage to Brown. In June 2020, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Hynie wasn’t Brown’s legal wife and wouldn’t have rights to his estate.