When Ronald Simmons first heard James Brown’s hit “Cold Sweat,” he was
blown away, especially by Brown’s command, “Give the drummer some!”
“When I was a kid I would go crazy when I heard that!” said
Simmons, 53. “It did something to me: I’ve been drumming for the last
Simmons was among thousands of fans waiting Thursday outside
the Apollo Theater to pay their respects to Brown, who died on
Christmas Day at age 73. As they stood in the cold, many spoke
passionately about Brown’s impact on their lives.
“He is our royalty, our music royalty,” said 51-year-old Ruth Davis.
As Brown lay in repose, the area surrounding the Harlem theater became a tribute zone.
Hardly somber, those in line reminisced about a Brown concert
and sang along with “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Some purchased
T-shirts, buttons, CDs, DVDs or drawings.
Ebony Croskey, 23, remembered listening to her parents’ Brown records as a child and roller-skating to “The Big Payback.”
“His music influenced the music of the artists that I listen
to today,” said Croskey, who stood in line for more than four hours.
“R&B, hip-hop. I came to pay my respects from that perspective.”
As Brown songs blared from speakers, some in line recalled
how Brown revolutionized R&B and laid the foundation for funk,
disco and hip-hop as a bandleader, songwriter and producer. His stage
presence was electrifying, they said.
But there was another side to Brown. A day after the Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, Brown performed in
Boston. His call for calm and the decision to televise the concert are
credited with sparing the city the unrest seen elsewhere.
Also that year Brown recorded “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m
Proud),” which bolstered black people’s pride everywhere, many said.
“There was a time when you would call somebody black and
they’d get offended,” said Barbara Johnson, 61. “James Brown said, ‘No,
baby, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.'”
Many in line said they were proud of the Godfather of Soul,
who started out as a poor boy in Georgia and became an influential
musician and entrepreneur.
When Stanley Wood, 54, heard there would be a viewing at the
Apollo, where Brown made his debut in 1956, the Philadelphia resident
bought a bus ticket to New York.
“His music was very inspirational,” Wood said. “No one else
at that time sang about being an African-American and being proud. And
then his music just made you feel good.”