Before long, Brown hired Mr. Ray as his personal assistant, creating the longest-running professional relationship of the entertainer known as the hardest-working man in show business.
Within a couple of years, Mr. Ray began to introduce Brown before each show, with ever more elaborate buildups, creating excitement in the audience with repeated calls of “James Brown! James Brown! James Brown!”
Later in the show, after singing and dancing nonstop for two hours, Brown would collapse onstage, seemingly overcome by exhaustion and emotional distress. Mr. Ray would reappear, wrapping Brown in a colorful cape and helping him to his feet.
As Brown staggered offstage, like a beaten fighter, he would suddenly fling the cape aside and resume screaming the final beseeching words of his song “Please, Please, Please” — only to fall to his knees once more. With perfect solicitude, Mr. Ray was there to snap open the cape again, gently place it over Brown’s shoulders and slowly accompany him into the wings, as the band kept playing.
It was one of the most unforgettable pieces of showmanship in popular music, and the act never grew old, no matter how many thousands of times it was repeated.
Mr. Ray, who was Brown’s most trusted assistant for more than 45 years, died Feb. 2 at his home in Augusta, Ga. He was 85.
His death was first announced on social media by the James Brown estate and reported by the Augusta Chronicle. The cause was not disclosed.
Mr. Ray was more than just Brown’s “cape man.” Often dubbed the “second-hardest-working man in show business,” he managed the singer’s backstage world and organized his wardrobe, which included more than 150 suits and dozens of pairs of shoes.
“My military training made me punctual,” Mr. Ray told author RJ Smith for the 2012 book “The One: The Life and Music of James Brown.” “I guess Brown couldn’t find anybody to shine the shoes and clean the five outfit changes he had.”
One night in the early 1960s, at a club in Maryland, Brown’s usual emcee didn’t show up.
“So he asked me, ‘Have you ever been onstage?’ ” Mr. Ray told the Chronicle in 2011. “I said, ‘Naw, man.’ He said, ‘Well, uh, tonight’s your night.’ ”
Over time, Mr. Ray’s introductions became miniature works of performance art. They began as relatively sedate invitations to the audience: “Are you ready for star time?”
Mr. Ray made his presentations increasingly elaborate, citing a long list of Brown’s hit songs as the band riffed behind him.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there are seven acknowledged wonders of the world,” he would say. “You are about to witness the eighth.”
Or: “I want to ask you one thing. Are you ready for some super, dy-no-mite soul?”
As the crowd shouted out a resounding “Yes!,” Mr. Ray politely responded, “Thank you.”
Speaking in rhythm with the band, Mr. Ray delivered his introductions almost like a stem-winding sermon:
“I want you to get yourself and your soul together. This man will make your liver quiver. This man will make your bladder splatter. This man will freeze your knees! If you will, let’s all welcome the world’s Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother No. 1, Ja-a-a-mes Brown! James Brown! James Brown!”
(He later said, “If I had a penny for every time I’ve said his name . . .”)
The cape routine began innocently enough, with Mr. Ray draping a towel over Brown’s shoulders after a sizzling performance. With the applause building, Brown threw off the towel and returned to the stage.
Later, Mr. Ray quietly edged onstage carrying a full-size cape, usually made of velvet, satin or sequins and embroidered with Brown’s name or “Godfather of Soul.” It became a part of every performance, with Mr. Ray matching the cape to Brown’s outfit.
“He would tell me the color of the suits, the color of the capes, only a little before the shows,” Mr. Ray told Smith in “The One.” “I kept them safe with me and never let them out of my sight, because I knew what they represented.”
One of the first times the dramatic act was seen outside of nightclubs was on a 1964 concert film of the Teenage Awards Music International, better known as “The T.A.M.I. Show.”
Brown outshone all the other performers that night, including the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye and the Beach Boys, with his otherworldly dancing and over-the-top emotionalism. During a six-minute version of “Please, Please, Please,” Mr. Ray cloaked Brown in his cape three times, comforting him as he raised him from the floor — only to have the singer break free and return to the microphone, dancing and sweating as the crowd screamed in a sustained frenzy. Brown appeared to be losing emotional control, but every time he collapsed to his knees or climbed to his feet it was on the first beat of a musical phrase.
“Take this spectacle as you will — as death or birth; conquest or surrender,” author Philip Gourevitch wrote in a 2002 profile of Brown in the New Yorker, “hellfire or apotheosis; sexual climax or heartbreak’s abjection; vaudeville hamming or sublime authenticity — you won’t be wrong.”
Daniel Brown Ray was born March 22, 1935, in Birmingham, Ala. His father was a barber, his mother a homemaker.
As Brown’s musical style and wardrobe changed through the years, as musicians came and went, Mr. Ray stayed at his side, usually attired in a three-piece suit and jauntily cocked hat. He helped manage an entourage of 35 to 50 people who were part of Brown’s road crew. Perhaps more delicately, he often had to act as an intermediary between Brown and his many female acquaintances.
Mr. Ray remained loyal to Brown through legal and tax difficulties and a prison sentence in the late 1980s.
Mr. Ray stayed with Brown until the singer’s death on Christmas Day 2006. At the funeral, Mr. Ray approached the open casket and placed a cape over Brown for the final time.
Complete information about survivors was not available.
In later years, Mr. Ray worked as an emcee for musicians Bootsy Collins and Christian McBride and a band touring under Brown’s name.
Mostly, though, he was content to put on his tailored suits and recall his years with Brown.
“I’ve been to Moscow, Hong Kong, you name it,” he told the Augusta Chronicle in 2011. “So many days I look back and say, ‘Wow, I’ve been some of everywhere . . . ’
“I had a job, and I enjoyed doing it.”
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