Thousands of fans gathered at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem to bid farewell to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Outside the venerable theater, the marquee read: "Rest in Peace Apollo Legend. Godfather of Soul James Brown 1933-2006."
Billy Mitchell, the Apollo's manager of group sales and a theater historian, said that fans are expected from all over the country for the public viewing. Some fans turned up before midnight to get a spot in line, he said.
James Brown died in Atlanta on Christmas Day of congestive heart failure at the age of 73. He was recognized as one of the most influential figures in 20th century. Even President Bush interrupted his holiday to pay tribute to a true legend: ``An American original, his fans came from all walks of life and backgrounds.''
Eschewing airplanes and the night train, family members had the entertainer's body driven by hearse from Georgia Wednesday night, escorted by his close friend, the Reverend Al Sharpton. The mini-convoy arrived at the Sharpton's National Action Network headquarters, 30 blocks north of the Apollo, at approximately 10 a.m.
An hour and a half later, some 300 mourners accompanied Brown's gold casket, borne inside a glass-sided carriage drawn by two white horses, in a procession down Malcolm X Boulevard to the Apollo on 125th Street. By the time the march finally reached the theater and pallbearers carried the coffin inside, several thousand fans were on hand, the largest crowd the Apollo has ever seen.
Inside the Apollo, Sharpton ironed out some last-minute details regarding the setup, and then the first mourners were allowed in to pay respects after 1 p.m. James Brown dressed in a sequined blue suit, silver boots, silver turtleneck and white gloves.
A private ceremony will be held at a local church in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia on Friday, and on Saturday Sharpton will preside over a public memorial at the 8,500-seat James Brown Arena.
The Apollo Theater is very important for Brown career since it's the place where he had made his debut in 1956 and recorded a 1962 chart-topper album, Live at the Apollo, Vol. 1, which was James' breakthrough album.