Fans Give a Final Farewell To the Godfather of Soul

By Doug Gross
Associated Press
Sunday, December 31, 2006

AUGUSTA, Ga., Dec. 30 -- More than 8,500 James Brown fans filled an arena bearing his name Saturday 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, 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."

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 to get in. When James Brown Arena was full, they gathered on the streets outside to listen to the service over a public-address system.

Al Sharpton and Jesse L. 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 Sharpton, a longtime Brown confidant who also spoke at a boisterous ceremony Thursday at the famed Apollo Theater in New York and at a private service Friday.

"James Brown is my greatest inspiration," Michael Jackson told mourners. He added that, when he was a child, his mother would wake him, regardless of the hour, whenever Brown was on TV.

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

Brown died of heart failure on Monday 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.

"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 Saturday's ceremony.

Brown was born in Barnwell, S.C., in 1933 but spent much of his childhood in Augusta.

The city named a street after Brown a decade ago and erected a statue of him in a downtown park last year. Earlier this year, the community's main auditorium was also named in his honor.

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