Originally created 12/27/06

Augusta prepares for goodbye



Fans of James Brown will have a chance to honor him one last time at the arena named for him.

A public funeral will be held at James Brown Arena in Augusta at 1 p.m. Saturday. It will follow a public viewing Thursday at the Apollo Theater in New York and a private funeral for the family in Augusta on Friday.

Burial arrangements have not been announced. Frank Copsidas, Mr. Brown's agent, said more details will be announced later.

Mr. Brown, 73, died early Monday at an Atlanta hospital of congestive heart failure - a complication of pneumonia that developed from a chest cold, according to The Associated Press. He had been admitted Saturday.

He was himself to the end, at one point saying, "I'm going away tonight," his friend Charles Bobbit, who was with the singer when he died. "I didn't want to believe him," he told the AP.

A short time later, Mr. Brown sighed quietly, closed his eyes and died, Mr. Bobbit said.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he will direct Richmond County flags to be flown at half-staff until Mr. Brown's memorial service. On Tuesday, Mr. Copenhaver offered the use of the arena for the funeral because he said he expected thousands will want to attend.

Mr. Brown's widow, Tomi Rae, said she believes all of Augusta should have access to his funeral. "He was a good man who had a hard life," she said. "I don't want people to remember the arrests and all of the bad things. I want them remember him as a good man who loved Augusta."

Mrs. Brown said she always got along with Mr. Brown's children and expects that she and her son, 5-year-old James, will join them at the funeral.

"This shouldn't be treated as a goodbye, but as a homecoming," she said. "I know the world is going to miss his music, but I'm going to miss a part of me."

The Rev. Larry Fryer, a local minister and friend of Mr. Brown, said he last spoke with him a couple of days after his Thanksgiving turkey giveaway. He said Mr. Brown never talked about his health, but the Rev. Fryer said he had his concerns.

He said he talked with Mr. Brown's daughter Deanna in September after making public a push for a commemorative stamp for the music icon. She told him that she had reservations because a stamp is only done after the person has died.

"She said that 'I'm very afraid right now, Rev. Fryer, about you doing this step because this is only done when someone is deceased.' I said, 'Deanna, I look at it like this: I believe in a man getting his flowers while they live. He might can't get the stamp and see the stamp right now, but he knows this is something that is being done for him.' But I'm going to tell you this, I already knew in my spirit, from prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, that things did not look good. That was in my spirit, but I did not tell her that."

Fans have laid flowers at the feet of Mr. Brown's statue in downtown Augusta, and others signed an American flag draped over its shoulders in a makeshift memorial to the man known as the Godfather of Soul. The memorial grew Tuesday as mourners steadily gathered.

Dropping off a bouquet of flowers, Linda Smith, 51, of North Augusta, said the singer was an inspiration, especially for her as a young black woman.

"I think he's the greatest singer of all time. He was such an inspiration to people," she said.

Mr. Copsidas, his agent, said Mr. Brown was a standout on and off the stage.

"As a performer, he was a legend," Mr. Copsidas said. "As a person, he was a warm person, kindhearted."

Larry Fridie, Mr. Brown's former business manager, toured the globe with the singer and watched as big names, such as Slash and Mick Jagger, asked to play with Mr. Brown, but the Godfather never forgot his roots.

As recently as Friday, Mr. Brown, who even then felt ill, showed up at the Imperial Theatre in downtown Augusta to participate in his 15th annual Christmas toy giveaway.

Mr. Fridie recalled 20-30 requests each week seeking help from the music legend, but he could only think of one or two that weren't fulfilled.

The singer was always helping those in need, said Derrick Monk, who is described as a "protg" of Mr. Brown on the entertainer's Web site.

"James Brown always took the underdog," Mr. Monk said. "I used to tell him he is the little man with the big heart."

Whether performing or practicing, Mr. Brown was always "on," said Lara Plocha, the executive director of the Imperial Theatre, a venue the singer used for rehearsals.

"It was magical once he got there. He carried such an energy or an excitement," she said. "It's almost incomparable to anything I've experienced. He just had this aura about him that was just electrifying."

Mr. Brown's death leaves a "void," Mrs. Plocha said.

Staff Writer Donnie Fetter contributed to this article, and Associated Press reports were used.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

Reach Mike Wynn at (706) 823-3218 or mike.wynn@augsutachronicle.com.