Farewell Tour to James Brown Ends With Hometown Memorial

At a gathering marked by joy more than sorrow, thousands of James Brown's fans and friends filled an arena bearing his name Saturday for their final tribute to the homegrown singer known as the "Godfather of Soul."

The farewell tour for Brown — beloved in Augusta as much for his generosity and influence as for his music — wound down with an afternoon funeral, two days after a boisterous viewing in the famed Apollo Theater in New York.

Click Here to See Pictures From the Funeral Service

Michael Jackson was among the more than 8,500 fans who packed James Brown Arena, where Brown lay in front of the bandstand in his third wardrobe change in three days — a black jacket and gloves, red shirt and sequined shoes.

As the service began shortly after 1 p.m., friends and relatives filed past the casket. The procession was followed by a video of Brown's last performance in Augusta and his final concert in London — where he performed a slow, soulful version of Ray Charles' "Georgia On My Mind."

Jackson, whose arrival sparked a roar from the crowd, stood before the open casket, kissed Brown's forehead and shared a hug with the Rev. Al Sharpton just as Brown's latest backup band, the Soul Generals, started to play. MC Hammer later unsuccessfully tried to coax Jackson up to the stage to perform.

"We come to thank God for James Brown, because only God could have made a James Brown possible," said Sharpton, a longtime Brown confidant who also spoke at the New York ceremony and a private service Friday. He invited Jackson to speak, adding Brown would have wanted the singer at the ceremony even though some might criticize his presence.

"James Brown is my greatest inspiration," Jackson said, adding that when he was a child, his mother would wake him, no matter what time it was, whenever Brown was on television.

Click Here to Watch the Video of Michael Jackson at the Funeral

"When I saw him move, I was mesmerized," Jackson said. "I knew that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown."

Tomi Rae Hynie, Brown's partner and the mother of his 5-year-old son who was a backup singer with his band, dropped a flower into the casket after performing.

Fans had started lining up in the rain before dawn. Many who couldn't get into the arena gathered on the streets outside to listen to the service over a public address system.

Brown died of heart failure on Christmas morning in Atlanta while hospitalized for treatment of pneumonia. He was 73.

Saturday's public funeral was the third memorial event held in as many days for Brown, whose hits like "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" inspired generations of soul, funk, disco, rock and rap artists.

"When I was little, our family tradition during the holiday was young folks would do their routine — I was always James Brown," said Richard Clayton, one of about 20 Atlanta residents who headed to Augusta on a bus early Saturday.

For Maynard Eaton, who helped organize the bus group, Brown was a political figure above all.

"'I'm black and I'm proud' was the most influential black slogan of the 1960s," he said, referring to the chorus of the Brown standard "Say It Loud."

On Friday, in a small brick church in nearby North Augusta, South Carolina, about 300 family members and close friends — including boxing promoter Don King and comedian Dick Gregory — heard Sharpton deliver the eulogy at a 90-minute service.

Click Here to See Pictures From the Funeral Service

"When he started singing, we were sitting in the back of the bus. When he stopped singing we were flying Lear jets," said Sharpton, who toured with Brown in the 1970s and remained a close friend.

A day earlier, thousands of fans poured into the Apollo in Harlem for a sometimes raucous celebration of Brown at the venue where one of his trademark high-energy concerts launched him into the international spotlight in 1956.

"He was a God-sent person — almost like an angel," said Vickie Greene, of Avera, Georgia, who said she saw her first Brown show more than 30 years ago. "He was so inspirational to people about sharing and helping and giving."

Even when he became an international superstar, Brown considered Augusta his home. It was a place for highs, like his annual tradition of handing out Thanksgiving turkeys to needy families, and lows — such as the drug-fueled police chase that landed him a 15-month stint in prison.

Brown was born in Barnwell, South Carolina, in 1933 and spent much of his childhood in Augusta singing and dancing for change on street corners. At times, he committed petty crimes that landed him in reform school.

Far from the typical low promise of a youth spent in what he once described as an "ill-repute" area of the city, Brown's mark on his hometown was indelible.

Three days before his death, Brown hosted his annual Christmas toy drive for needy children.

The city named a street James Brown Boulevard a decade ago and last year erected a statue of him in a downtown park. Earlier this year, the city's main auditorium was named in his honor.