Fans of the late "Godfather of Soul" began lining up outside Harlem's Apollo Theater early Thursday to pay their last respects as James Brown's body was driven from Georgia for his last date on the historic stage.
A horse-drawn carriage waited to take Brown's casket through the streets of Harlem to the theater to begin three days of wakes, remembrances and a funeral of the kind normally reserved for royalty.
Norman Brand, 55, paused to touch the top of the white caisson, then recalled hearing Brown's anthem, "Say it Loud _ I'm Black and I'm Proud," for the first time in his native Alabama.
"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. "Just one song and one word can change a whole situation."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, Brown's close friend, raced through the night in a van with the casket to make sure the late singer did not miss his date.
"He was a superstar for common people, and I wanted to make sure that common people got to see him one last time," Sharpton told The Associated Press shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, at the start of his journey from Georgia to New York.
"It's going to be a royal day in Harlem," Sharpton said. He promised "the kind of homecoming we haven't seen in a long time, if ever, in the Harlem community."
Sharpton said the road trip was necessary because logistical problems had made it impossible to catch the last flight of the evening. Because of the long drive, the planned morning procession had to be delayed Thursday.
"We're determined to make sure he makes the Apollo," Sharpton said. "He never missed the Apollo. If we ride all night, that's fine."
The Apollo Theater prepared for long lines of people paying their respects to Brown, whose unique style of soul and funk left a large imprint on hip-hop, disco and rap music.
Brown loved it when people lined up outside the Apollo for his shows, Sharpton said.
"His eyes would get wide. He'd smile," Sharpton said. "My dream is that I can say, `Mr. Brown, they were lined up for you one last time.'"
Brown, who died of heart failure Christmas morning at 73, will lie in repose from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday on the stage where he made his 1956 debut, with the quiet of final respects broken only by the sound of his music.
Apollo historian Billy Mitchell said Brown routinely drew the largest crowds of anyone at the theater.
The Apollo has been used for public viewings several times before, but always for employees. In 1992, the theater provided a last chance to honor Ralph Cooper, who founded Amateur Night, the weekly talent contest that launched the careers of Brown, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, among scores of others.
The theater also was a showcase for such superstars as Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and a young Michael Jackson.
Outside on Thursday, its marquee read: "Rest in Peace Apollo Legend The Godfather of Soul James Brown, 1933-2006," and Brown's epic "Live at the Apollo" album streamed from the marquee speakers.
A man taped flowers and pictures of Brown on a wall next to the Apollo, and less than a block away, a merchant showed videos of Brown's live performances on a television outside.
New York City resident Olive Conteh-Martyn recalled children trying to emulate his dance moves when she was a teenager in Sierra Leone, in West Africa.
"We idolized him," she said.
"Brown was as fast as lightning!" said West Webb, who hoped to get into the Apollo on Thursday to pay tribute. "He was one of a kind."
Brown continued to work to the end, dying less than a week before he was to perform New Year's Eve in Manhattan at B.B. King's blues club. Chaka Khan, the Grammy Award-winning rhythm and blues performer, will play instead.