After a long drive through the night from Georgia, the body of music legend James Brown arrived Thursday in Harlem, where thousands of fans waited to see the Godfather of Soul one last time at the Apollo Theater.
The white hearse arrived at the headquarters of the Rev. Al Sharpton, Brown's longtime friend, just after noon. The gold casket was placed in a horse-drawn carriage for a procession through the streets to the historic hall, followed by several hundred fans singing the chorus of Brown's anthem, "Say it Loud _ I'm Black and I'm Proud."
Brown, who died of heart failure Christmas morning at 73, will lie in repose from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. (1800 GMT to 0100 GMT Friday) on the stage where he made his 1956 debut and recorded a thrilling live album in 1962. A program for family and close friends was planned for 6 p.m. (2300 GMT)
Norman Brand, 55, of Harlem, bowed his head and gently touched the top of the carriage, then recalled the emotion he felt hearing "I'm Black and I'm Proud" for the first time in his native Alabama.
"It really changed the attitude of most black people," Brand said. "It was like a wake-up call. Before that, if you were called black, it was like an insult. Just one song and one word can change a whole situation."
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.
Sharpton raced through the night in a van with the casket, arriving about three hours late, but vowing to make sure the R&B star 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 late Wednesday at the start of his journey from Georgia.
"It's going to be a royal day in Harlem," he said, promising "the kind of homecoming we haven't seen in a long time, if ever, in the Harlem community."
Some fans arrived as early as midnight for a chance to pay their respects.
To many, Brown was more than just the energetic performer once introduced to the Apollo audience as "Mr. Dynamite."
"He seemed like family, a friend of mine," said Brenda Harper, of Harlem, who was the first to arrive at the Apollo, shortly after midnight. Fourteen years ago, she said, "I jumped on the stage and he danced with me."
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.
On Friday, a private ceremony for Brown is planned at a church in Georgia. A second public viewing of the singer's body will be held Saturday at the James Brown Arena there.
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.