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Thousands view body of Godfather of Soul James Brown at Harlem's Apollo Theater

Thousands view body of Godfather of Soul James Brown at Harlem's Apollo Theater

Even in death, James Brown can move a crowd. Thousands of people danced and sang in the streets outside the Apollo Theater in a raucous celebration of the music legend's life as his body was displayed on the stage where he made his 1956 debut.
Music thumped from storefronts and portable stereos Thursday. Brown's wails and growls even blasted inside the auditorium as fans marched quietly, single-file past his open gold coffin.
Brown lay resplendent in a blue suit, white gloves and silver shoes. Flanking the casket were giant photographs of the singer performing. An arrangement of red flowers on a white background spelled out his nickname: Godfather.
It was maybe the first time the hardest-working man in show business graced a stage in stillness, but that did not stop his fans from partying.
"This is a celebration of his life," said 41-year-old Bryant Preudhomme of suburban New York. "James Brown gave you heart. He lifted you up when you were down. He gave you hope."
Brown, who died of heart failure Christmas morning at 73, lay in repose in the theater that helped catapult him to fame and was the setting for a thrilling live album in 1962.
"This man stood for something. This man stood for us, the common man," the Rev. Al Sharpton told Brown's family and friends at a memorial service.
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 moment in particular that led Norman Brand, 55, of Harlem to bow his head reverently as he touched the white horse-drawn carriage that brought Brown's casket on a 20-block procession through Harlem to the Apollo on Thursday morning.
"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.
Brown's personal manager, Charles Bobbit, 76, said the singer told him Christmas morning: "I'm going to leave you tonight. Yes, I think I have to go." Bobbit said Brown minutes later "sighed three times very quietly, closed his eyes and drifted off."
Bobbit revealed that Brown had asked him days earlier to book two dates at the Apollo so he could see the long lines await him again.
Mourners came from far and wide to attend the first in a trio of services that will keep Brown almost as busy in death as he was in life.
His casket left a Georgia funeral parlor Wednesday for an all-night drive to New York. It arrived at Sharpton's Harlem headquarters just before noon Thursday, and was quickly transferred to the carriage for a 20-block procession to the theater.
On Friday, a private ceremony is planned at a church near Augusta, Georgia. A second public viewing of the singer's body will be held Saturday at the James Brown Arena in Augusta.
Some among the thousands who passed close enough to the casket to see Brown's silver shoes and white gloves on Thursday had waited for up to five hours, occupying themselves by singing and dancing in the streets outside the historic theater.
Musicians and celebrities slipped in to pay their respects throughout the day. They included boxer Joe Frazier and Ali-Ollie Woodson, who was a singer with the Temptations in the 1980s and again in the early 1990s.
Some hugged Brown's six children and friends, including three band members, most of whom sat in front of the stage throughout the viewing.
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Associated Press writers Marcus Franklin and Adam Goldman contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-15 04:58 GMT+08:00