Sat, Dec 30, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Thousands turn out to pay respects to soul legend

BLACK AND PROUD To many of those who thronged the streets of New York, James Brown was an icon who changed the way people thought about themselves


Thousands of people danced and sang in the streets outside the Apollo Theater in a raucous celebration on Thursday of music legend James Brown's life as his body was displayed on the stage where he made his 1956 debut.

Music thumped from storefronts and portable stereos. 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 on Christmas morning at the age of 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 Reverend 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 Sharpton, a close friend of the Godfather of Soul for three decades.

Sharpton credited Brown with inspiring countless musicians in all genres and with refusing to become a conformist.

"He became a superstar on his own terms ... he never bent, buckled or bowed," Sharpton said. "James Brown wasn't just No. 1, he changed the beat of music all over the world."

Earlier, 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 behind the caisson singing the chorus of Brown's anthem, Say it Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud.

To many, Brown was more than just an energetic performer. As Norman Brand of Harlem waited for the procession to begin, the 55-year-old recalled hearing Say it Loud for the first time in his native Alabama.

"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. "Just one song and one word can change a whole situation."

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