Sunday, December 31, 2006

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — More than 8,500 James Brown fans filled an arena bearing his name yesterday in a final, joyful farewell to the singer that seemed as fitting for a civil rights leader as for the godfather of soul.

For mourner Maynard Eaton, Mr. Brown was a political figure above all.

” ‘I’m black and I’m proud’ was the most influential black slogan of the 1960s,” he said, referring to the chorus of the Brown standard “Say It Loud.”

Mr. Brown’s body lay in front of the bandstand in a black jacket and gloves, red shirt and sequined shoes. Fans lined up in the rain before dawn. When James Brown Arena was full, they gathered on the streets outside to listen to the service over a public address system.

The Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and a tearful Michael Jackson were among those who took turns at the podium overlooking the casket.

“We come to thank God for James Brown, because only God could have made a James Brown possible,” said Mr. Sharpton, a longtime Brown confidant who also spoke at a boisterous ceremony Thursday at the famed Apollo Theater in New York and a private service Friday.

Mr. Jackson, whose arrival sparked a roar from the crowd, bowed before the casket and shared a hug with Mr. Sharpton just as Mr. Brown’s latest backup band, the Soul Generals, started to play.

“James Brown is my greatest inspiration,” the pop star told mourners, adding that when he was a child, his mother would wake him, regardless of the hour, whenever Mr. Brown was on TV.

“When I saw him move, I was mesmerized,” Mr. Jackson said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown.”

Mr. Brown died of heart failure Dec. 25 in Atlanta while hospitalized for treatment of pneumonia. He was 73.

His hits, such as “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” inspired generations of soul, funk, disco, rock and rap artists.

A day earlier, thousands of fans poured into the Apollo in Harlem for a sometimes raucous celebration of Mr. Brown’s life at the venue where one of his trademark high-energy concerts launched him into the international spotlight in 1956.

“He was a God-sent person — almost like an angel,” said Vickie Greene, who saw her first Brown show more than 30 years ago and attended yesterday’s ceremony.

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