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James Brown said it loud

Singer received honors from city

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The passing of internationally acclaimed performer James Brown on Christmas Day 2006 brought a national outpouring of loss and love, and an international focus on the hometown he never forgot.

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Fans gather at the James Brown statue across from Augusta Common on Broad Street to pay tribute to the music legend.    File/Staff
File/Staff
Fans gather at the James Brown statue across from Augusta Common on Broad Street to pay tribute to the music legend.

Brown was hospitalized with pneumonia at Emory Crawford Long Hospital and died about 1:45 a.m. Christmas morning from heart failure brought on by pneumonia.

Brown's last public appearance had been only days before at Augusta's Imperial Theatre, where he passed out gifts to children in his 15th annual toy giveaway.

Brown was known worldwide as a musical visionary who brought soul music to mainstream audiences, developed the propulsive, riff-oriented music that became known as funk and drew up the political and musical blueprint for the hip-hop revolution.

Known universally by his nickname, "The Godfather of Soul," Brown said that his music was originally influenced by the gospel and jazz he heard as a young man.

"I was a gospel singer," he once said in an interview with The Chronicle. "All day Sunday we would sing gospel music, and then in the evening we would go to jazz. I knew that I wanted music that was comfortable, easy to listen to while being commercial and up to date."

The result was a form that blended the syncopated rhythms from jazz with the soulful delivery of gospel. Combined with Brown's unique delivery and magnetic stage presence, the music influenced musicians from The Rolling Stones to Michael Jackson.

In the 1990s, Augusta renamed Ninth Street as James Brown Boulevard.

In 2003, Brown went to Washington, D.C., where he was recognized at the Kennedy Center Honors, celebrating outstanding contributions to the fabric of American culture.

A life-size statue of the performer was erected in 2004 on Broad Street facing the Augusta Common.

Although born in Barnwell County, S.C., and a resident of Beech Island, Brown was known as a warm and generous presence in Augusta, the city in which he grew up.

The city returned the favor with a number of honors, including renaming its civic center the James Brown Arena months before his death.

On Dec. 30, 2006, that arena was the site of perhaps the biggest, most star-studded funeral in Augusta's history, with more than 8,000 fans attending.

It was a send-off that oftentimes rocked with old-time gospel and R&B, and was attended by Michael Jackson, whom the Godfather of Soul inspired.

"Today is the end of a long journey and the beginning of a new journey," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a longtime Brown family friend and civil rights activist who presided over the funeral, flanked by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "We came to thank God for James Brown because only God could have made a James Brown possible. And only God can give a James Brown rest."

A gold coffin with white satin lining was fringed by bundles and wreaths of red, yellow, white and peach roses, along with yellow daisies and peace lilies. One arrangement of yellow roses was sent by bluesman B.B. King, a fellow Apollo Theater legend. On the far left stood a 5-by-4-foot painting of Brown singing soulfully into a microphone with the ocean behind him.

Michael Jackson's mere presence in the floor seats, and later on stage, generated ecstatic cries from the crowd. Jackson -- dressed in a black leather jacket, black slacks, a white shirt and a thin black tie -- didn't perform, but he expressed his fondness for Brown.

"James Brown is my greatest inspiration," Jackson said. "Ever since I was a small child, no more than like 6 years old, my mother would wake me, no matter what time it was ... to watch the television to see the master work. And when I saw him move, I was mesmerized. ... 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.

"James Brown, I shall miss you, and I love you so much, and thank you for everything."

More on James Brown

READ MORE about the "Godfather of Soul" at augustachronicle.com/topics/people/james-brown.


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