December 29, 2006


A salute from the soul in Harlem (Ellen Barry, December 29, 2006, LA Times)

As the caisson carrying James Brown's body rolled through Harlem on Thursday, people climbed out onto their fire escapes and stuck their heads out of windows. Some stood on police cars, and others ran out of beauty salons with rollers still in their hair.

When the carriage arrived — finally — on 125th Street, a ripple of sound went through the crowd. The horses drawing it were white, with tall white feathers trembling above their heads. Brown's casket appeared to be solid gold.

When Clarissa Hall saw this, tears welled in her eyes. She had taken the day off as a hospital secretary and spent five chilly hours waiting in front of the Apollo Theater for the chance to view his body.

"A gold casket," said Hall, who was wearing a tiger-print overcoat. "But what else would he have, you know? What else would he have?"

Brown's death prompted an outpouring here unlike any in recent memory. The line to see his body began forming before dawn, and at 8 p.m. — the hour the viewing was scheduled to end — it still stretched for five long blocks. The day brought any number of spontaneous expressions of love; at one point, a man began performing wiggly dance steps in the middle of two lanes of moving traffic on 125th Street.

The snaking queue would have greatly pleased Brown, who ritually monitored the length of lines outside his performances, the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a eulogy.

"They came because this man stood for something. This man represents us, the common man," said Sharpton, a decades-long friend of the musician. "James Brown shines for us that never had anybody shine for them."

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 29, 2006 12:00 AM
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