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James Brown: Friends and celebrities say farewell

James Brown

Story by Jack Foley

FRIENDS and celebrities joined thousands of fans in paying final tribute to soul legend James Brown at a huge public funeral in his Georgia hometown on Saturday (December 30, 2006).

The late star, who died suddenly on Christmas Day after suffering pneumonia, lay in an open golden coffin in the packed James Brown Arena in Augusta.

The funeral followed a private ceremony in Augusta a day earlier and was the third memorial event in as many days for the musician affectionately referred to as “the Godfather of Soul”.

Among the celebrities who turned out to pay tribute was singer Michael Jackson – dubbed by many to be the “king of pop” – who kissed Brown’s forehead and described him as his “greatest inspiration”.

He told the crowd: “Ever since I was a small child, no more than six-years-old, my mother would wake me no matter what time it was, if I was sleeping, no matter what I was doing, to watch the television to see the master at work.

“And when I saw him move, I was mesmerised. I had never seen a performer perform like James Brown, and right then and there I knew that that was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown.”

He added that the whole world had changed its beat because of James Brown.

Black rights activist Al Sharpton, who played a prominent part in each of the ceremonies, delivered the main eulogy.

The ceremony began with friends and relatives being invited to file past the coffin to pay their last silent respects. A video of Brown’s last performance in Augusta and final concert in London were also played.

But despite several requests for the capacity crowd to behave as if they were at any other funeral, and the fact that it was raining, many danced along to the infectious rhythms of Brown’s music, turning the event into a lively and memorable occasion.

Despite being born in Barnwell, South Carolina, Brown spent much of his childhood in Augusta and subsequently adopted the town as his home.

He remained closely involved with the city throughout his career, handing out Thanksgiving turkeys every year and providing meals for more than 1,000 families.

The singer also participated in an annual toy drive in the city just three days before his death.

Brown subsequently had an auditorium named in his honour and one of its streets was renamed James Brown Boulevard in his honour. A statue to the singer was also erected last year.

Since his untimely death, fans have turned the statue into a memorial, leaving flowers, records and messages at its feet.

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