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Last Updated: Friday, 29 December 2006, 03:57 GMT
Brown fans in party mood in Harlem
By Debbie Geller
BBC News, Harlem

A fan lines up outside the Apollo Theater to view the body of James Brown
Brown was an influence to many during a career spanning 50 years
It was like a public holiday in Harlem - streets were blocked off and traffic was backed up.

Fast-thinking entrepreneurs were selling memorial T-shirts and badges.

People filled the streets playing the music made famous by the man they had come to remember and pay tribute to: "The Godfather of Soul" James Brown.

The white plumed horses carried the gold coffin containing Brown's body, which was applauded by hundreds of people lining the 20 blocks from West 145th St to West 125th St - home of the Apollo Theater, the crown jewel of African-American entertainment palaces.

As the horse and carriage reached its destination, the waiting crowd chanted James Brown's name over and over again.

Party atmosphere

One woman, who was waiting for a traffic policewoman to let her cross the street, said: "The last time this street was so crowded was the last time James Brown played here."

That kind of good-natured observation was the order of the day, even if some people had waited through a cold night and morning to view Brown's body inside the theatre.

The only time tempers seemed even slightly short was when a group of obvious VIP's arrived in a limousine and were escorted into the building immediately.

The crowd outside the door began to chant: "We were here first. We were here first." But that did not change the day's carnival, almost party atmosphere.

In one doorway across the street from the Apollo, a middle-aged man did a perfect James Brown imitation, complete with a expert fall to the knees, as the signature brass blasts of Papa's Got a Brand New Bag filled the air.

Good will and humour

The crowd couldn't be defined by age - there were young and old in the long line around the block.

The Harlem Apollo
Brown's body was displayed on the stage where he made his debut
"His music was the music of our parents' generation and they passed it along to us and it inspired us. His music was so much more meaningful than the music of today," one young girl told me.

James Brown was not just a hero to Americans.

Wayne, a grey-haired man from Trinidad, told me with tears in his eyes that he had seen James Brown play in his home island, but never in New York.

Wayne had taken a day off work to come and pay his respects to a man he told me he loved and who he would miss.

And there was not just one economic group that seemed predominant - mink coats mixed in the crowd with faded cloth jackets.

There were people from every race, colour and nationality imaginable. It is hard to imagine many other popular artists who would turn out a crowd with such good will and humour.

Everyone I talked to spoke about the respect, appreciation bordering on awe they felt for a man who grew up in poverty to become perhaps the most influential figure in popular music.

That good will and affection made a grey, chilly winter day feel like a party where everyone was invited.

Fans pay tribute to James Brown


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