At Large James Brown: Still Packing ‘Em in at the Apollo
posted by December 29 at 11:07 AMon
Last night I went to Harlem to see James Brown’s final appearance at the Apollo Theater, where the body of the Godfather of Soul/Edison of Rhythm/Babydaddy-Babymama-Funky Doula of Hiphop was laid out yesterday for a public viewing. I got there around 7:30 pm with my fella Jake, who took the photos above and below. When we arrived, only thirty minutes remained in the scheduled showing time (1-8pm). Still, there was a tremendous crowd—thousands of people—lined up along several long blocks hoping to get in.
As we strolled the six blocks to the end of the line, I tried to guess how the night would play out. Would James Brown—in death as in life—prove himself the hardest working man in showbiz and stay on the Apollo stage until every last fan was satisfied? Or was the 8pm deadline set in stone, and all those cops on hand were here to make sure the disappointed crowd dispersed peacefully?
Whatever the case, the crowd was fascinating—lots of families in fancy funeral dress, a rainbow of hipsters young and old, and numerous crusty old dudes reminiscing about James Brown b-sides. This guy walked along the line showing off his original vinyl pressing of Live at the Apollo signed by the man himself, and reciting a story about producing one of Brown’s NY shows in the ’70s.
Finally, we came upon someone addressing the crowd: James Brown’s sister, whose first name I didn’t catch, and who was working her way down the line, addressing groups of 50 or so at a time. The gist of her address: Due to another showing scheduled the next day in Georgia, the Apollo showing would indeed have to cease at 8:00 pm, leaving thousands of people standing on line for naught. “James loves every one of you,” she said with tears in her eyes. “The whole family is so grateful to you for coming out tonight.”
The crowd of addressees I heard answered back sweetly, calling out, “Don’t you worry about it” and “God bless you,” and I imagine she found similarly sympathetic audiences as she worked her way down the line. As we left, I bought a bootleg DVD of “James Brown’s Greatest TV Performances” from one of the many vendors lining the streets. I haven’t watched it yet.
As for the man of the hour (fuck you, Gerald Ford): He’s a giant, he knew it, and he had an awesome life. RIP James Brown.