William Murrell said he owes his success in business to the Godfather of Soul.
The owner of William Murrell & Associates on Broad Street started his chauffeur business on the side in 1989 and received a phone call one year later that changed his life. He was stationed at Fort Gordon and working as a hospital administrator at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center at the time.
James Brown’s regular limousine driver couldn’t take him to the airport, so his assistant called Murrell’s company. Brown liked Murrell’s personalized services so much that he decided to hire him.
“From that day on, he wanted me to be his personal chauffeur. I was James Brown’s limo driver for 15 years,” Murrell said.
Murrell and his staff of 34 drivers have driven numerous celebrities visiting Augusta, including Bill Cosby, Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac, Spike Lee, Tavis Smiley and Millie Jackson. Other clients include former Augusta Mayor Bob Young.
The company drives clients as far as Las Vegas, and through its partnerships it can provide customers with limo service in all 50 states and even offer chartered planes.
Many of Murrell’s customers are corporate clients. When their flights are canceled, they call Murrell to drive them to avoid missing business appointments, he said.
Murrell started his company with one vehicle and today has a fleet of 18. During the Masters Tournament, he hires extra drivers and increases his fleet to 55 vehicles.
“I had the vision of owning my own transportation business in high school. I used to drive school buses in high school. In North Carolina, the students take the students to school,” he said.
He still drives the vehicles whenever he can.
“I like to be out there so I can know what’s happening,” he said.
Brown’s call was perfect timing, Murrell said, because he and other soldiers were being asked to take early retirement.
As Brown’s chauffeur, he drove the entertainer to his home, the airport, concerts in the Southeast and doctor appointments.
Working for Brown led to business with other celebrities. A mural on Murrell’s building pays homage to Brown.
“He helped to open a lot of doors for me,” Murrell said.
In December 2006, Murrell drove Brown’s body to the Apollo Theater in New York, where thousands came. The road trip was a last-minute affair because Brown’s coffin arrived at the funeral home too late for the staff to make a scheduled flight out of Atlanta, Murrell said.
Lee and Ron Howard have announced plans to film a movie about Brown’s life, and Murrell said they have asked him to play the limo driver. He has met both of the filmmakers.
Murrell said he might retire in about four years. For now, he enjoys being on the road.
“I really enjoy my job because each day you meet different people and happy people,” he said.