- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — Even in death, James Brown can pump up the crowd.

Thousands of people danced and sang in the streets outside the Apollo Theater yesterday in raucous celebration of the music legend’s life as his body was displayed to the public on the stage where he made his 1956 debut.

Music thumped from storefronts and portable stereos. Mr. Brown’s wails and growls even blasted inside the auditorium as fans marched quietly, single-file, past his open gold coffin.

Mr. 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 didn’t 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.”

Mr. 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.

At an evening program for family and close friends, the Rev. Al Sharpton said it was difficult to believe that a man who was “so much alive” was dead.

“How could someone with such energy and life really ever be gone?” said Mr. Sharpton, a close friend of the “Godfather of Soul” for three decades.

Earlier, Mr. Brown’s body was carried to the theater through the streets of Harlem on a majestic white carriage drawn by two white horses. Hundreds of fans followed the caisson singing the chorus of Mr. Brown’s anthem, “Say it Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

His casket left a Georgia funeral parlor Wednesday for an all-night drive to New York. It arrived at Mr. Sharpton’s Harlem headquarters just before noon, and was quickly transferred to the carriage for a 20-block procession to the theater. Mr. Sharpton accompanied the body from Georgia and walked behind the carriage yesterday. He stood at Mr. Brown’s side for hours during the viewing.

A private ceremony is planned for today at a church near Augusta, Ga. A second public viewing of the singer’s body will be held tomorrow at the James Brown Arena in Augusta.

Some fans arrived at the Apollo as early as midnight for a chance to pay their respects. More than 100 people were in line outside the theater by 8 a.m. Later, the crowd swelled into the thousands and spilled over onto both sides of 125th Street. The line to get inside the Apollo stretched for blocks.

“He seemed like family, a friend of mine,” said Brenda Harper, who was the first to arrive, shortly after midnight. Fourteen years ago, the Harlem woman said, “I jumped on the stage and he danced with me. I danced with the Godfather that day.”

Musicians and celebrities slipped in to pay their respects throughout the day: boxer Joe Frazier came, as did band members, including bass player Fred Thomas and Ali-Ollie Woodson, who was a singer with the Temptations in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Edith Stewart of Atlanta flew to New York on Wednesday.

“I loved James Brown. He did a lot of things for people all over. Just a couple of days ago, in Augusta, he was passing out gifts. And then he’s gone,” she said.

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