Harlem Says Its Farewell to James Brown A horse-drawn carriage carried the body of music legend James Brown through the streets of Harlem on Thursday to the world-famous Apollo Theater, where a sea of people waited to say farewell to the man known as the "Godfather of Soul." Brown died Christmas Day at the age of 73. He was to play in New York on New Year's Eve.
NPR logo

Harlem Says Its Farewell to James Brown

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6692842/6692843" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Harlem Says Its Farewell to James Brown

Harlem Says Its Farewell to James Brown

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6692842/6692843" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


On now to the late James Brown. His career came full circle this afternoon as the body of the legendary singer was returned to the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Fans lined up around the block to file past Brown's casket, laid out on the same stage where he made his debut in 1956 and where he recorded his famous live album.

NPR's Robert Smith reports from New York on the raucous celebration that once again filled the Apollo Theater with the sound of soul.

ROBERT SMITH: In 1962, James Brown took the stage of the Apollo Theater sounding a little bit like this.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: More than 40 years later, he's still putting on a show.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: His body was driven through the night from Georgia. Fans lined up at the Apollo before dawn under a marquee with the name James Brown. Thousands thronged 125th Street as Brown's body was carried through the streets of Harlem on a horse-drawn carriage. Three days after his death, James Brown is still Mr. Dynamite, the hardest working man in show business.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHARLES ROBISON: I saw him perform in 1972 and 1974.

SMITH: Here at the Apollo?

Mr. ROBISON: Yes. I was in the front row.

SMITH: Describe to me what that's like.

Mr. ROBISON: You really can't describe James Brown in words, because he put so much into making sure that his audience enjoys itself. Do you understand what I'm saying? That it really has you in awe.

SMITH: Someone in the crowd here has it looks like an original copy of James Brown's "Say it Loud."

Ms. ROBIN EATON: "I'm Black and I'm Proud."

SMITH: Check it out. It looks like this has been played a number of times.

Ms. EATON: Oh yes, it has. And we've enjoyed it and we feel when we play it.

Mr. CARLTON SMITH: He was as important I'd say as Martin Luther King, you know what I mean. "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" is the musical equivalent of "I Have A Dream."

SMITH: Some people thought that this might be a somber, a sad day here.

Mr. ULYSSES COLEMAN: Nah, this is a happy day.

SMITH: Why is it a happy day?

Mr. COLEMAN: Because it's a homecoming, not a funeral.

SMITH: By the afternoon, the celebration filled 125th Street in front of the Apollo. Not only the diehard fans you just heard, Charles Robison, Robin Eaton, Carlton Smith and Ulysses Coleman, but it seemed like everyone in Harlem stopped by just to take a look. People were dancing, selling T-shirts and James Brown bootleg. Ossify Kendall(ph) got up on her boyfriend's shoulders to take in the scene.

Ms. OSSIFY KENDALL: Pandemonium. There's a whole lot of people out there. They're going to be late for school trying to see James Brown.

SMITH: And then the Godfather of Soul himself showed up.

Reverend AL SHARPTON: James Brown, James Brown, James Brown.

SMITH: The crowd went nuts. The pastor was carried into the theater and onto the stage.

Reverend SHARPTON: That's faith.

SMITH: About an hour later, the first people in line started to come out the back of the theater, now quiet, reverent. Carnie Bragg(ph) says he walked by the casket of James Brown and was in awe.

Mr. CARNIE BRAGG: He has a blue outfit on. His hair looks beautiful as always. And he looked very good. I'm a funeral director, so I know. He looked very good.

SMITH: So he looked like he was going to put on a show.

Mr. BRAGG: That's right.

SMITH: Well, what was the feeling in there? Out front there's sort of a party going on. Inside?

Mr. BRAGG: It's very quiet. No one's saying anything.

SMITH: Bragg says he was reminded of late nights listening to James Brown's Live at the Apollo album and singing along (unintelligible) "Please Don't Go."

(Soundbite of song, "Please Don't Go")

Mr. JAMES BROWN (Singer): Please don't go.

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.