The hardest working man in show business lay down to rest at last 10 years ago today.
James Brown was 73.
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He died in Atlanta that morning of congestive heart failure related to pneumonia. He’d struggled with illness in the weeks before he died, but he pressed on with a demanding schedule.
His public funeral in Augusta, where a life-sized statue of the Godfather is a popular selfie station on Broad Street, the town’s wide downtown boulevard, was an event for the ages.
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Michael Jackson was there. Dick Gregory, Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson attended. The James Brown Arena was packed to the rafters. Brown’s body was elegant and regal in his open casket.
Augusta was home to Brown for most of his life, even though he had houses elsewhere.
He was born in rural South Carolina, but at age 6 he moved to Augusta, where he was raised by his great-aunt in a brothel. The James Brown Family Foundation recently launched the James Brown Family Historical Tour to give fans even greater insight into the global entertainer’s humble beginnings. Brown’s daughter Deanna Brown-Thomas, who still lives in the area, is president of the foundation.
Her sister Dr. Yamma Brown Alexander, who lives in Atlanta, serves as vice president.
“He loved Augusta,” one of his daughters, Alexander said during a speaking engagement at Paine College in Augusta. “My father was an extremely humble man. He rode around in the city. He didn’t have a chauffeur. Our father taught us to be humble, to serve others in everything you do.”
Christmas Day is always a bittersweet one for Brown’s family. As she does each year, Yamma has posted a touching tribute to her beloved dad today:
“Ten years ago today I received the call at 1:30 a.m. that you had passed! I went to the hospital to kiss you, touch you and talk to you even though I know your soul had transcended,” she wrote on Facebook. “You had on the same bracelet that is in this picture andI wear it now to this day, just to remember those final moments with you alone. We shared you with the world because so many people loved you and still do. Dad, I miss you and wish you were still here but I know we don’t live forever. I know that your music has touched so many over the years and you have become part of our history, so in essence you will always be here. You are in my soul, heart and I love you. Rest in peace Daddy!”
Yamma posted this photo montage on Instagram:
Stops include the James Brown tour in Augusta include the address on Twiggs Street where Brown lived as a youngster (the former brothel). Also on the tour are the building where his elementary school was housed (now a Head Start program), the house he and his family lived in during his adult years, area businesses he owned, the statue and arena.
“Get On Up,” the 2014 biopic that starred Chadwick Boseman as Brown, indirectly led to the tour. The movie wasn’t filmed in Augusta, but Boseman and director Tate Taylor visited to get a sense of the man whose life story they set out to portray.
“They’re just regular people, which let me know he was a regular person as well,” Boseman said about his visit with Brown and Thomas. “I just appreciate his individual experience. I understand it more looking at his childhood and his background.”