By Craig Giammona
A native of South Carolina who rose from poverty in Georgia, Brown made his name at the Apollo.The Harlem theater is known as a place were “stars are born and legends are made” and perhaps no performer better embodied the motto than Brown.During his eulogy for the fabled singer, Rev. Al Sharpton looked at the gold-colored casket containing Brown's body and told his mentor that thousands had come to pay their respects.”Mr. Brown, they're lined up to 130th Street,” Sharpton said, adding: “I know he would have been happy we brought him back to Harlem, brought him to the Apollo one more time.”Brown was remembered during the service as an exuberant and immensely talented stage performer, whose music continues to influence young musicians. Even in death, Brown was at the center of an elaborate piece of theater.Sharpton said Brown's children wanted a special casket for their father and by the time it was ready, there were no more commercial flights to New York. Sharpton and a friend then decided to drive Brown's body to Harlem from Georgia, arriving in time to place the body in a horse-drawn carriage for the trip from 145th Street to the Apollo on 125th.The public, lined six and seven across for several blocks, was allowed into the theater from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., and a steady stream of fans took the stage at the Apollo and walked slowly past Brown, who was dressed in a sparkling blue tuxedo and white gloves. Sharpton stood next to the casket and nodded to the well-wishers.Outside on 125th Street, Brown's distinctive voice blared from speakers outside storefronts and guests waiting to get inside the theater spoke almost exclusively in the superlative about Brown's talent and his legacy. “Where else could I be today?” James, a Brooklyn resident, asked rhetorically. “This is history. I have to get in.”Brown died on Christmas Day at the age of 73. The onetime resident of Addisleigh Park was a consummate hit maker who rose to popularity in the 1960s. Shortly after 6 p.m. the theater was closed as family members, friends and dignitaries filled the theater for a short service. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), state Sen. Malcolm (D-St. Albans) and U.S. Rep Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) were among the elected officials who paid their respects. Bishop Lester Williams, who was to marry Sean Bell and Nicole Paultre on Nov. 25, was also there as were Bell's parents.Deputy Inspector Michael Blake and Capt. Steven Haynes, the commanding officers of the 103rd and 105th precincts, also attended the service, though not in a professional capacity. Sharpton told the crowd that he and Brown had spoken about the police shooting of Bell during their last conversation, about a week ago. Sharpton said Brown told him to remind people to love each other. He also mentioned that he was uneasy with the way some of his music was being used. Brown, who is credited with influencing funk and soul music, has been widely sampled in recent years by rap artists.It was noteworthy, though, that the event was not particularly solemn, suggesting the remembrance of a man who lived a full life and will be remembered long after he is gone through is enduring music.”One era had a Bach, another had a Beethoven, we had a Brown,” Sharpton said. “He changed the beat of music all over the world.”Reach reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.