The Truth About James Brown's Relationship With Tomi Rae Hynie

On the stage, there might not have been a greater performer than James Brown. With his combination of singing, dancing, and his overall stage presence, Brown earned his nicknames, "Mr. Dynamite" and "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." However, Brown's impact went far beyond concerts and albums.

Brown's music was seminal in a number of popular music genres. Outside of his two other nicknames, Brown also bears the names "The Grandfather of Hip-Hop," "The Godfather of Soul," and "The Inventor of Funk" (via Biography). He has influenced a diverse range of artists, from rock singers like Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones to hip-hop legend Jay Z and "The King of Pop" Michael Jackson. Per Biography, Brown wrote in his memoir how he helped shape Black music from mockery to a respectful art form: "Others may have followed in my wake, but I was the one who turned racist minstrelsy into Black soul — and by doing so, became a cultural force."

While Brown's career in music made him a legend, his love life was as complicated as his dance moves. Endless touring that included five to six shows a week was paired with issues with drug abuse and crime that oftentimes resulted in prison sentences and led to unstable home life for Brown and his family. So it does not come as a surprise that in his final years, this instability would continue with his last partner, Tomi Rae Hynie.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

James Brown's love life before meeting Tomi Rae Hynie

Tomi Rae Hynie was James Brown's fourth and final wife (via Biography). Looking at Brown's early upbringing and life, one can see how the man who would change the world of music would also change romantic partners. Brown's father was an abusive man who beat the young Brown and his mother, who eventually left the family (per NPR). Eventually, after their separation, Brown was sent to live with his Aunt Honey in Augustus, Georgia. Honey was the madam of a brothel, and there, Brown was forced to work for pennies while being exposed to sex work before he was even 5-years-old.

When Brown reached adulthood, he followed in his father's footsteps and solved his issues with women with his hands. Yamma Brown, James' daughter with his first wife, Velma Warren, recalled in her autobiography hearing and seeing her famous father assault her mother often (per Vulture). Eventually, Yamma was in an abusive relationship with her partner. This, combined with his drug use and financial difficulties, led Brown's biographer, RJ Smith, to say (via NPR), "James Brown was a complicated, dangerous individual to be around."

In an interview with Larry King, Hynie explained how she and Brown met (via CNN). She had auditioned to be one of the elder Brown's background singers, which went well enough for Brown to make her a lead. While she said she wanted to keep the relationship professional, the two soon began a romantic relationship.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Tomi Rae Hynie was already married

One of the biggest debates in the story of Tomi Rae Hynie and Jame Brown's relationship was whether or not she could be considered his fourth wife. While it is true that she and Brown wed in 2001, this came with an important qualifier that could not be ignored by Brown, his family, or the state — Hynie was already married (cue the dramatic soap opera music).

Four years before her marriage to Brown, Hynie had married a man named Javed Ahmed (per The Augusta Chronicle). For all intents and purposes, the marriage was a sham. Ahmed was already married to three different women, and according to Brown's family attorney, Debra Opri, her marriage to Ahmed was in large part because he was an immigrant. Whatever the case for the marriage, the fact they were married at all meant that she could not be considered the legal spouse of James Brown in the state of South Carolina, where they were married. For that to happen, Hynie would have annulled her marriage to Ahmed before marrying Brown, but it was not until after their wedding that Brown discovered that his fourth wife was already married. Two years after their marriage, Hynie sought and was granted an annulment from Ahmed.

Since Brown's death, this fact has been debated in the courtroom. With millions on the line, courtroom decisions were made in one party's favor, only then to be reversed on appeal.

Brown annulled the marriage after learning of her previous relationship

For "Mr. Dynamite," news that his wife was already married was shocking news. On their marriage certificate, Tomi Rae Hynie had put that her marriage to James Brown was her first marriage. In January 2004, Brown filed to annul his marriage to Hynie (via People). Despite this, the couple still dated on and off for the rest of the soul singer's life. Like the rest of the relationships in his life, Brown's marriage and partnership with Hynie was fraught, to say the least.

RJ Smith, biographer of the book "The One: The Life and Music of James Brown," said that as a youth, Brown took up boxing, and once he focused on music as his career, he used his fists on his backing musicians, as well as on the women in his life (per NPR). His violent temper only worsened when Brown became heavily addicted to drugs — especially PCP — and his financial troubles began to catch up to him. Notably, in June 2004, Brown was arrested for criminal domestic violence against Hynie (he filed to annul the marriage afterward). Brown pleaded no contest to the charges, with his lawyers claiming that a trial and her potential testimony would negatively affect the pair's relationship. Despite the allegation, Hynie still sang in Brown's band, and the couple remained on and off until Brown's death on Christmas Day 2006.

James Brown's death led to battles between his family and Tomi Rae Hynie

At 73-years-old, James Brown died after a weeklong battle with pneumonia in his adopted home of Atlanta, Georgia (per Biography). For Tomi Rae Hynie, the death of her ex-husband was met not with an embrace in tragedy, but instead a cold reception from the rest of Brown's family. At the time, Hynie told Larry King she was recovering from her addiction to painkillers and still grieving the death of her father (via CNN). Hynie claimed the rest of the Brown family treated her harshly, refusing to let her speak at the three services held for their patriarch and even kicked her out of the home she lived in with Brown and their son 5-year-old, James Brown II.

Their son, like the marriage between her and Brown, was hotly contested by the family and others. During the 1980s, to fight paternity suits, James Brown had a vasectomy, and James Brown II was the only child the singer had following the procedure (per The Hollywood Reporter). On two separate occasions, Brown II had to take a paternity test, which proved that he was in fact James Brown's son. Still, both Hynie and Brown II were left out of the singer's will, as he never updated the document after marrying Hynie or giving birth to his last child. For the next decade, Brown's other children and Hynie engaged in a long, expensive legal fight.

The estate's legal fights took 15 years to settle

There have been nearly as many lawsuits filed by people connected with James Brown's will as there have been hit songs the singer recorded during his life. More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed by individuals staking their claim at Brown's estate, which varies from as little as $5 million to as much as $100 million (via The Augusta Chronicle).

Originally, Brown claimed he wanted the majority of his fortune to go back to his community. In a 2000 will, Brown said most of his estate would go to the "I Feel Good" trust (named after one of his hit songs), which would be used to educate young people and children in South Carolina and Georgia. In spite of this desire from Brown, in 2009, a settlement was reached to split his estate between the trust, Tomi Rae Hynie, and Brown's adult children (per Smithsonian Magazine). This settlement would be overturned four years later by the South Carolina Supreme Court, which said it went against Brown's own wishes.

In 2020, a court ruled that because Hynie had not dissolved her previous marriage, she was not legally Brown's wife and had no claim to the estate. Still, because of their child, she was a part of the undisclosed settlement agreement in 2020 (via Rolling Stone). The next year, the Brown estate was sold to Primary Wave Music for an estimated $90 million.