NEW YORK – James Brown's music career will come full circle when his body is brought to rest on the stage of the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, where he made his explosive debut, and the world changed to his beat.
The public will be permitted on Thursday to visit the Apollo to have one more look at a man who helped steer modern musical tastes toward rhythm-and-blues, funk, hip-hop, disco and rap, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Tuesday. The reverend has been a close friend of Brown for decades.
"It would almost be unthinkable for a man who lived such a sensational life to go away quietly," Sharpton said in an interview from Georgia, where he was making funeral arrangements with Brown's children.
Sharpton said the public Apollo viewing will be followed by a private ceremony Friday in Brown's hometown, Augusta, Ga., and another public ceremony, officiated by Sharpton, a day later at the James Brown Arena there.
"His greatest thrill was always the lines around the Apollo Theater," Sharpton said of the Harlem landmark. "I felt that James Brown in all the years we talked would have wanted one last opportunity to let the people say goodbye to him and he to the people."
Brown, known as the Godfather of Soul, died of congestive heart failure on Christmas morning in Atlanta at age 73. He had been scheduled to perform on New Year's Eve in Manhattan at B.B. King's blues club.
Mourners paid their respects to Brown in Augusta on Tuesday, filing past his statue, which was draped in an American flag and a red scarf.
Flowers were left at the base of the statue in tribute to the late singer.
"There were some troubled times in his life, like everybody else, but he meant well," said John Arthur Thomas, 73, of Daleville, Ala., who stopped by the statue. "He is a legend. There will never be another James Brown."
Sharpton said he and Brown's children talked Tuesday about the moment after the Rev. Martin Luther King's assassination when Brown stepped to a microphone and told gathering crowds of angry people to go home.
"And they went home," Sharpton said. "For them to riot for a man who lived a life of peace would send the wrong message. He always said he was surprised and humbled that he had that influence."
Sharpton said Brown was "always very sensitive as to how people could be remembered."
The Apollo began recruiting and showcasing talent in 1934. Early acts included "Pigmeat" Markham and Jackie "Moms" Mabley. Before long, Lena Horne, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin and Brown were making their debuts.
Apollo audiences cheered the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Michael Jackson, Fats Waller, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr. and Nina Simone. Comedians such as Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor performed there, too.
Brown, who lived in Beech Island, S.C., near the Georgia line, won a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1992, as well as Grammys in 1965 for "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (best R&B recording) and for "Living in America" in 1987 (best R&B vocal performance, male.) He had a brief but memorable role as a manic preacher in the 1980 movie "The Blues Brothers," starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.
"Fortunate were those of us who were able to engage his talents and witness his latest shows. The greatest on-stage revue of music in the history of our planet," Aykroyd said in a statement released by his publicist.
Sharpton said Brown always knew his place in history.
"He used to tell me, 'There are two American originals, Elvis and me,'" Sharpton said. "'Elvis is gone, and I've got to carry on.'"