January 4, 2007 — Vol. 42, No. 21
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James Brown eulogized at private farewell service

Harry R. Weber

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — In life and in death, James Brown should be remembered for his impact on music and on the world, not for the many people that surrounded him, the Rev. Al Sharpton said last week in a passionate eulogy befitting the godfather of soul.

“When he started singing, we were sitting in the back of the bus. When he stopped singing, we were flying Lear jets,” Sharpton told about 300 mourners during a private funeral service for Brown at Carpentersville Baptist Church.

It was standing room only in the tiny red brick church in a neighborhood of dilapidated homes — some with boarded-up windows — on a street just inside the South Carolina line from Augusta, Ga., the place Brown called home.

One day after thousands bade farewell to Brown at the Apollo Theater in New York, friends and relatives filed past the solid gold casket containing Brown’s body, dressed in a black jacket with white studs on the lapels, black pants and red shirt.

During the 90-minute service punctuated by prayers, gospel music and Brown’s favorite hymn, “His eye is on the sparrow” by Cynthia Moore, mourners clapped, danced, waved their arms and cheered.

But Sharpton also had harsh words for people who have put themselves in the spotlight since Brown died of heart failure Christmas morning at the age of 73.

While he didn’t name specific people, as he made those comments Sharpton glanced in the direction of Brown’s companion, Tomi Rae Hynie, who was sitting in the front row with her and Brown’s 5-year-old son.

“If you really are all that you say you are, you don’t place yourself in the story, the story puts you in your place,” said Sharpton, a confidante who had accompanied Brown’s body to New York City and back. “We don’t want to hear your story or your mess, we’re here because of James Brown. The reason I am here is because I walked with James Brown.”

Brown’s lawyer has said the late singer and his 36-year-old partner weren’t legally married and that she was locked out of his South Carolina home for legal reasons involving Brown’s estate. The partner, one of Brown’s backup singers, has said the couple was married and she can prove it. The funeral program listed Hynie as a “companion” and said Brown was survived by seven children, though his publicist has referred to only four.

Sharpton also praised the way Brown, who didn’t have any formal singing education, emerged to change the way music was performed and the way people listened to it.

“The James Brown that I know, he started singing in the woods of South Carolina,” Sharpton said. “What made James Brown so great was his commitment to a beat that some people tried to kill.”

Boxing promoter Don King was also on hand, along with comedian Dick Gregory and singer M.C. Hammer. Even though media were not allowed, an AP reporter was invited to attend the private service.

A who’s who of celebrities attended a public viewing of the singer’s body, followed by a public funeral service, Dec. 30 at the James Brown Arena in Augusta.

Thousands of people danced and sang in the streets outside New York’s Apollo Theater last Thursday in a raucous celebration of the music legend’s life as his body was displayed on the stage where he made his 1956 debut.

At the service the following day, a pastor said that Brown’s representatives are working with a congressman to try to get Brown’s face on a postage stamp.

(Associated Press)

Rapper M.C. Hammer (center) dances with James Brown’s daughter Venisha Brown (left) and Brown’s son Daryl Brown during the funeral service honoring the life of the man known to music lovers as “The Godfather of Soul” at the James Brown Arena in Augusta, Ga., on Dec 30. The legendary Brown, whose fiery on-stage antics, inimitable performances and innovative musical style inspired generations of artists, died of heart failure Christmas morning at the age of 73. (AP photo/John Bazemore)

(Top) Thousands celebrated the life and music of James Brown outside New York City’s famed Apollo Theater last Thursday in a manner befitting the late music legend — they sang, they clapped, and they danced. Brown’s body was displayed on the Apollo’s stage, where he made his performing debut in 1956. (Dia McWhorter photo)

(Bottom) Then Boston mayor Kevin White stands on stage with James Brown on April 5, 1968, the day after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Unlike other major cities, Boston did not erupt into violence after King’s death, and Brown’s concert was largely given credit for keeping the peace. (File photo)

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