Fans bid farewell to James Brown in New York

Thousands of James Brown fans lined up on Thursday to bid farewell to the “Godfather of Soul” at a public viewing of his body on the New York stage where the singer first made his mark more than 40 years ago.

The 73-year-old entertainer—whose voice, showmanship and bold rhythms brought funk into the mainstream and influenced generations of music—died on Christmas of congestive heart failure in Atlanta.

Brown’s body traveled on a horse-drawn carriage through New York’s Harlem neighbourhood to the Apollo Theatre on Thursday. A 1962 self-funded recording of Brown performing at the Apollo became one of the singer’s first hit albums.

“James Brown means everything to the black community,” said Brenda Baskin (50) from Brooklyn, as she stood outside.

“[Brown’s lyrics]‘Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud,’ opened up the doors for black people to have more pride,” she said. “He told his people to hold their heads up and that there was something for them to be prideful in—themselves.”

After the viewing, Brown’s body was to be taken to his hometown of Augusta, Georgia, for a private service on Friday.
Another public viewing is planned for Saturday before Brown is buried.

The Grammy-award winning singer was one of America’s great showmen and band leaders. He created a revolutionary sound that mixed funky rhythms and staccato horns behind his own often explosive vocals.

Hip-hop and rap artists revered him and extensively used his beats as the backdrop for their own music, while singers like pop star Michael Jackson drew on his dance style.

‘The man who set the stage on fire’

A line to view Brown’s body snaked along almost three city blocks. A Brown impersonator gave the crowd an impromptu street performance, while salesmen hawked T-shirts and pictures of the singer. Flashy cars drove by blaring Brown’s music.

“I came out for soul brother number one. That’s who he is—James ‘Butane’ Brown, the man who set the stage on fire,” said fan Fred Chinnery (50) from New Rochelle, New York. “This man was the baddest man who ever put on a pair of dancing shoes and slid across the stage.”

Brown, the self-proclaimed “hardest working man in show business,” performed more than 100 live shows this year and had been scheduled to perform in New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Brown had more than 119 singles on the charts and recorded over 50 albums. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received a lifetime Grammy achievement award.

His big hits included Please, Please, Please, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, I Got You (I Feel Good) Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine) and It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.

Brown emerged from a boyhood of poverty and petty crime in Augusta in the era when the South was still segregated and began his music career in jail as a juvenile offender.

His personal life remained turbulent. He was jailed in 1988 for drug, weapons and vehicular charges after a car chase through Georgia and South Carolina that ended when police shot out the tires of his truck. He left prison in 1991.

He was named to president Ronald Reagan’s council against drugs but was arrested several times in the mid-1980s and 1990s and charged with drug and weapons possession.

During his career Brown also built a business empire with a string of radio stations and a production company. He even played a manic preacher in the hit movie The Blues Brothers. - Reuters

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