Mon, Jan 01, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Thousands honor James Brown at hometown funeral

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , AUGUSTA, GEORGIA

After a journey that took his body to New York for a viewing at the Apollo Theater, James Brown, the titan of rhythm and blues, soul and funk music who died on Monday at 73, was celebrated on Saturday in a public funeral and homecoming in this small city on the South Carolina border, where he got his start shining shoes and dancing for change.

The ceremony was led by the Reverend Al Sharpton and featured speeches by the Reverend Jesse Jackson and popstar Michael Jackson, who made his first major public statement in the US in 18 months. Thousands of fans lined up outside the James Brown Arena downtown to see Brown's body.

Beloved former band members like Bootsy Collins and Bobby Byrd were there, as was Danny Ray, Brown's announcer since the late 1950s, whose job description included the "cape routine," in which he covered Brown as he collapsed on-stage in mock exhaustion, only to throw off the cape and begin another song.

But in the nearly four-hour ceremony, which was alternately referred to as a homecoming and a "homegoing," the biggest star was Brown's music -- funky and propulsive, it was a sacrament of joyful physicality that brought the crowd of more than 8,000 to its feet again and again.

"James Brown is my greatest inspiration," said Michael Jackson, who wore a dark patterned suit with a white shirt, a thin black tie and black sunglasses. "When I saw him move, I was mesmerized. Right then and there, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

No horse-drawn carriage ferried Brown to the arena, and no dramatic stage lighting illuminated his gold-plated coffin, as it had at the Apollo on Thursday.

That did not preclude any of Brown's hallmark pomp, however. He wore a black suit with sequined lapels, a fire-engine-red shirt, a black bow tie, black gloves and a pair of black shoes tipped with yet more sequins. Toward the end of the viewing line, a painting depicted him singing rapturously before a skyscape of sunshine breaking through purple clouds.

Sharpton, Jackson and others celebrated Brown as a man who had risen from poverty with nothing but a flirty shriek and some quick dance moves.

"Nobody started lower and went higher than James Brown did," Sharpton said.

After the viewing at the Apollo, a private funeral was held on Friday at the Carpentersville Baptist Church in North Augusta, South Carolina.

Born in a one-room shack in Barnwell, South Carolina, and raised in Augusta by an aunt who ran a brothel, Brown went on to sell millions of records, transforming popular music with a densely syncopated funk style widely credited as being part of the foundation of modern hip-hop.

He became a model of black capitalism, and in his songs he campaigned for education and self-determination.

Outside, the fans chanted Brown's name and "Say it loud -- I'm black and I'm proud," echoing his 1968 anthem of self-respect, which he sang at president Richard Nixon's inaugural festivities in 1969.

"He was just a good man," said the Reverend Leon Elliott, 58, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, who had waited near the front of the line for 10 hours. "He was like a godfather for a whole lot of people coming up. He taught people, be proud of who you are."

Tomi Rae Hynie, Brown's companion, performed onstage with the Bitter Sweets backup band, singing the Sam and Dave classic, Hold On, I'm Comin'.

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