James Brown and changing cast of back-up musicians, singers and dancers. The group played gospel and rhythm & blues, playing at juke joints, and later when they became better known, they performed at various colleges.
Prior to their first recording, "Please, Please, Please", The Famous Flames were billed simply as The Flames, and Brown himself was billed as a member of the group. In later concerts and recordings Brown and the group were billed as James Brown and The Famous Flames, or sometimes as James Brown and His Famous Flames.
During the earliest phase of the Flames' career, before they had a recording contract, each member of the group played an instrument; Bobby Byrd played the piano, while Brown himself played drums. However, in later years (aside from the brief exception of guitarist Nafloyd Scott) The Famous Flames consisted specifically of the singers who backed Brown, not the instrumentalists in his band. (During the 50s and 60s the band was billed separately as the James Brown Band, the James Brown Orchestra, or The Poets depending on the context.) Brown and the Flames' record label King Records contributed to the confusion on this point by crediting the vocal group on the printed labels of James Brown singles such as "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" that did not actually feature them.