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Augusta says farewell to local hero James Brown

Singer buried after public service

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      AUGUSTA — For one last time, the Godfather of Soul fronted a raucous funk group cranking out some of the most influential soul songs of all time.
    And one last time, a jam-packed house full of fans clapped, danced and shouted in a final tribute Saturday to James Brown.
    At a gathering marked more by soulful joy than sorrow, about 8,500 people crammed an arena named for Brown.
    The farewell tour for Brown — loved in Augusta as much for his generosity and influence as for his music — wound down with an afternoon funeral, two days after a boisterous viewing in the famed Apollo Theater in New York.
    Brown died of heart failure on Christmas morning in Atlanta while hospitalized for treatment of pneumonia. He was 73.
    ‘‘He upstaged Santa on Christmas Day,’’ said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, one of several speakers.
    Pop superstar Michael Jackson was among those at James Brown Arena, where Brown lay in front of the bandstand in his third outfit in three days — a black jacket and gloves, red shirt and sequined shoes.
    Jackson, whose arrival sparked a roar from the crowd, stood before the casket and shared a hug with the Rev. Al Sharpton just as Brown’s latest backup band, the Soul Generals, started to play.
    ‘‘We come to thank God for James Brown, because only God could have made a James Brown possible,’’ said Sharpton, a longtime Brown confidant who also spoke at the New York ceremony and a private service Friday. He invited Jackson to speak, adding Brown would have wanted the singer at the ceremony even though some might criticize his presence.
    ‘‘James Brown is my greatest inspiration,’’ Jackson said, adding that when he was a child, his mother would wake him, no matter what time it was, whenever Brown was on television.
    ‘‘When I saw him move, I was mesmerized,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown.’’
    While there were somber moments — from tearful tributes by Brown’s children to the pomp of officials from Augusta’s Paine College awarding Brown a posthumous doctorate — much of the ceremony resembled the high-energy concerts that became Brown’s trademark.
    The Soul Generals cranked out versions of Brown hits including ‘‘Soul Power,’’ ‘‘I Feel Good’’ and ‘‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’’ for a crowd that roared its approval and shouted for more.
    Tomi Rae Hynie, Brown’s companion, led the group through a version of the Sam and Dave classic, ‘‘Hold On, I’m Coming.’’
    There was even a version of Brown’s racy ‘‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine,’’ featuring former Brown bassist Bootsy Collins.
    Fans had started lining up in the rain before dawn. Many gathered on the streets outside to listen to the service over a public address system.
    Saturday’s public funeral was the third memorial event held in as many days for Brown, whose hits inspired generations of soul, funk, disco, rock and rap artists.
    ‘‘He was a God-sent person — almost like an angel,’’ said Vickie Greene, who said she saw her first Brown show more than 30 years ago. ‘‘He was so inspirational to people about sharing and helping and giving.’’
    Even when he became an international superstar, Brown considered Augusta his home. It was a place for highs, like his annual tradition of handing out Thanksgiving turkeys to needy families, and lows — such as the drug-fueled police chase that landed him a 15-month stint in prison.
    Brown was born in Barnwell, S.C., in 1933 and spent much of his childhood in Augusta singing and dancing for change on street corners.
    The city named a street James Brown Boulevard a decade ago and last year erected a statue of him in a downtown park. Earlier this year, the city’s main auditorium was named in his honor.
    ‘‘I can hear Mr. Brown now,’’ said Charles Bobbitt, Brown’s longtime manager who was with him when he died. ‘‘He’s saying ’St. Peter ... I don’t deal with the middle man. Take me to the main man.’ ‘‘
    The service was followed by a private burial.
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