Fans of the late "Godfather of Soul" began lining up outside Harlem's Apollo Theater early Thursday to pay their last respects as James Brown's body was driven from Georgia for his last date on the historic stage.
A horse-drawn carriage waited to take Brown's casket through the streets of Harlem to the theater to begin three days of wakes, remembrances and a funeral of the kind normally reserved for royalty.
"He made black people feel proud to be black and enjoy our roots. When we had nothing else to look forward to or look up to, we always had our music," Amino Hyman told CW 11 television as he waited outside the theater before dawn. "James Brown was definitely one of the ones that empowered us."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, Brown's close friend, raced through the night in a van with the casket to make sure the late singer did not miss his date.
"He was a superstar for common people, and I wanted to make sure that common people got to see him one last time," Sharpton told The Associated Press shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, at the start of his journey from Georgia to New York.
"It's going to be a royal day in Harlem," Sharpton said. He promised "the kind of homecoming we haven't seen in a long time, if ever, in the Harlem community."
Sharpton said the road trip was necessary because logistical problems had made it impossible to catch the last flight of the evening.
"We're determined to make sure he makes the Apollo," Sharpton said. "He never missed the Apollo. If we ride all night, that's fine."
The Apollo Theater prepared for long lines of people paying their respects at a public viewing of the body of Brown, whose unique style of soul and funk left a large imprint on hip-hop, disco and rap music.
Brown loved that people would line up outside the Apollo for his shows, Sharpton said, reports AP.
"Every time he played the Apollo, he'd say, `How many people outside?"' Sharpton recalled. "I'd say: `It's around the corner. It's two blocks.' ... My dream is that I can say, `Mr. Brown, they were lined up for you one last time."'
Brown will lie in repose from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday on the stage where he made his 1956 debut, with the quiet of final respects broken only by the sound of his music. There will be a program for family and close friends at 6 p.m.
Sharpton will deliver a short prayer and eulogy on Thursday evening. Afterward, the viewing will resume and Brown's body will make the journey back to his hometown of Augusta, Georgia, where a private ceremony will be held Friday. On Saturday, a public viewing will be held at the 8,500-seat James Brown Arena before an evening public service also officiated by Sharpton.
Brown died of congestive heart failure on Christmas morning in Atlanta. He was 73.