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James Brown's body arrives in Harlem for public viewing at historic Apollo Theater

James Brown's body arrives in Harlem for public viewing at historic Apollo Theater

Even in death, James Brown can move a crowd.
Thousands of people danced and sang in the streets outside the historic Apollo Theater in raucous celebration of the "Godfather of Soul" Thursday as his body was displayed on the stage where he made his 1956 debut.
Music thumped from storefronts and portable stereos. People sang on the sidewalk. Brown's wails and growls blasted on a loudspeaker inside the auditorium as fans marched quietly past his open gold coffin, where he lay resplendent in a blue suit, white gloves and silver shoes.
It was perhaps the first time the hardest working man in show business graced a stage so quietly, but that did not stop his fans from partying.
"This is a celebration of his life," said Bryant Preudhomme. "James Brown gave you heart. He lifted you up when you were down. He gave you hope."
After a long van drive through the night from Georgia, Brown's body arrived at the Apollo in a white carriage drawn by two white horses through the streets of Harlem.
Hundreds of fans followed the carriage on its way, 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, lay in repose on the Apollo stage where he made his 1956 debut and recorded a thrilling live album in 1962.
At an evening program for family and close friends, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Brown's longtime friend, said it was difficult to believe death had finally touched a man who was "so much alive."
Sharpton raced through the night in a van with Brown's 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 at the start of his journey.
Long lines of people waited at the Apollo to pay their respects to Brown, whose unique style of soul and funk left a large imprint on hip-hop, disco and rap music.
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."
Some fans arrived as early as midnight to pay their respects.
"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.
Musicians and celebrities slipped in to pay their respects Thursday, including boxer Joe Frazier.
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.
"He told me two weeks ago to book the Apollo for two days," said his friend and manager, Charles Bobbit. "He said, `Let's play two days at the Apollo, and we'll see the lines again around the block.'"
"The Apollo was always his home because that's where it all started," said his agent, Frank Copsidas, "and the people of Harlem were his family."
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Associated Press Writers Marcus Franklin and Adam Goldman contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-01-21 20:48 GMT+08:00