As James Brown's funeral arrangements were being finalized Wednesday, city officials scrambled to develop a plan for accommodating thousands of mourners, fans and celebrities expected to turn out Saturday for their final look at the soul legend and hometown hero.
The Augusta funeral home handling Mr. Brown's arrangements confirmed that there would be a five-hour viewing starting at 1 p.m. at the James Brown Arena, followed by a service at 6 p.m. An official at the funeral home said singers Patti LaBelle, Bobby Womack and Usher are among the artists expected to attend the service.
At C.A. Reid Memorial Funeral Home, Mr. Brown's close friend, the Rev. Al Sharpton, made last-minute preparations for the three days of funeral services that will begin today at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, N.Y. The civil rights leader was among those who accompanied Mr. Brown's body to New York on Wednesday night.
The funeral home on Laney-Walker Boulevard in Augusta was the site of a nightclub Mr. Brown co-owned with Charles Reid Sr. before it burned in 1973. The fire, which was caused by arson, led to Mr. Brown penning his 1973 hit song, The Payback.
Mr. Brown's unexpected death, caused by congestive heart failure, Monday morning in Atlanta, put Augusta officials on their heels as they returned from the Christmas holiday to the "confusing" task of organizing the public funeral service.
Logistics such as security and parking were still uncertain for the event, which planners said would fill the 8,500-seat arena.
"Things are just confusing to a certain extent," said James Brown Arena General Manager Robert "Flash" Gordon. "Things keep changing."
After an afternoon meeting of the mayor, the sheriff, and the city administrator, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he was confident that the city would manage.
"The bottom line is how often do you have someone of the magnitude of James Brown to pass in your community? It's never happened in Augusta, but we'll get it all handled. We are used to handling big events. We handled the Masters. We handle the Futurity, and we'll handle this in a proper fashion."
Today, the public will have the opportunity to view Mr. Brown at the Apollo Theater in New York, where he made his debut.
His casket will be placed in a horse-drawn carriage at the Rev. Sharpton's headquarters on 145th Street and driven 20 blocks down Seventh Avenue to the Apollo.
The Rev. Sharpton, who has played a major role in the funeral arrangements, said the Apollo was chosen for today's public viewing because Mr. Brown loved performing at the legendary entertainment venue. He said he recommended the Apollo when he met with Mr. Brown's two daughters Monday night.
"They said that 'Our father always said if you got in trouble or something happened, call you,'" the Rev. Sharpton said in an interview Wednesday. "I said, 'I tell you what I think, I think we ought to take him to Harlem, and let him go to the Apollo one more time.' I told them one of the joys I knew your father had is playing the Apollo."
On Friday, a private service will be held for his family at a North Augusta church, said Mr. Brown's road manager, Charles Bobbit.
The Rev. Sharpton will officiate the public events in New York and Augusta.
Fans continued to pay tribute to the Godfather of Soul, placing flowers at the foot of his statue on Broad Street. The city posted a deputy near the statue to secure the impromptu memorial left by fans.
Meanwhile, area businesses and air and ground transportation modes were bracing for the impact that crowds arriving into town Friday and Saturday could bring.
But as of Wednesday airports and hotels said it didn't appear that they would be strained.
Probably the most affected so far were local flower shops.
Deborah Partridge, co-owner of Martina's, said bouquets to lay at the memorial have been the most requested.
Buster Boshears, general manager of Augusta Regional Airport and Daniel Field, said he was expecting a spike in private, general aviation traffic, but nothing the airports couldn't handle with its regular staffing levels.
Staff Writers Sylvia Cooper and Laura Youngs contributed to this report.
Reach Justin Boron or Mike Wynn at (706) 724-0851.
TODAY'S MEMORIAL EVENTS
- 9:30 a.m.: Mr. Brown's casket will be taken by horse-drawn carriage from the Rev. Al Sharpton's headquarters at 106 W. 145th St. to the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
- 1-6 p.m.: Public viewing at the Apollo.
- 6-6:30 p.m.: A brief program for family, close friends and media.
- 6:30-8 p.m.: Public viewing will resume.