James Brown didn't move. He didn't sing. But even in death, the soul legend made thousands of people who streamed past him at Harlem's Apollo Theater feel good just to be near him. Many danced in the
James Brown didn't move. He didn't sing. But even in death, the soul legend made thousands of people who streamed past him at Harlem's Apollo Theater feel good just to be near him. Many danced in the aisle before they reached the open casket on the same stage that introduced him to the world in 1956. For seven hours, fans streamed past the casket, some tearfully, as Brown's music blared from the sound system.
"This man stood for something. This man stood for us, the common man," the Rev. Al Sharpton said yesterday (Dec. 28) during the viewing.
Sure, he pioneered the half-beat, as Sharpton said Brown called it, triggering an explosion of hip-hop, funk, disco and rap music imitating his rhythmic inventions. But his style also inspired new techniques in musical genres from rock'n'roll to gospel.
Sharpton, as close as any friend Brown had, cited the chorus of Brown's anthem, "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud," when he said the ultimate soul singer "with one song erased the word Negro from our vocabulary forever."
It was that achievement in particular that led Norman Brand, 55, of Harlem, to bow his head reverently as he touched the white horse-drawn carriage that carried Brown's casket on a 20-block procession through Harlem to the Apollo.
"It really changed the attitude of most black people. It was like a wake-up call. Before that, if you were called black, it was like an insult," Brand said.
Some among the thousands who passed close enough to the casket to see Brown in his diamond-studded blue suit and silver shoes had waited for up to five hours, occupying themselves by singing and dancing in the streets outside the historic theater as music thumped from storefronts and portable stereos.
At the stage, they saw two large posters of the singer flanking the casket. An arrangement of red roses on a white background formed his nickname: Godfather. Musicians and celebrities slipped in to pay their respects. Boxer Joe Frazier and Ali-Ollie Woodson, who once sang with the Temptations, were among them.
Some hugged Brown's six children and friends, including three band members, most of whom sat in front of the stage throughout the viewing. Bass player Fred Thomas said he was honored to be called upon to help carry the casket. "I wouldn't have missed it for nothing," he said.
Sharpton had accompanied the body on an overnight drive from Georgia after a delay in the arrival of the golden casket made air travel impossible.
Sharpton spoke all week of how Brown loved to see long lines outside the Apollo when he played. As he walked behind the casket through Harlem streets to the Apollo on 125th Street, Sharpton said, he spotted the huge crowds outside the theater, looked at the casket and said, "Mr. Brown, the line's all the way up to 130th Street."
A private ceremony was planned for today at a church near Augusta, Ga. A second public viewing of the singer's body was scheduled for Saturday at the James Brown Arena in Augusta. Saturday's memorial was expected to be a star-studded affair, but Sharpton said the Apollo tribute was intentionally modest.
"We didn't ask the big names to come today," he told friends and family. "This crowd didn't come for anybody but James Brown."
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