Going forward, anyone entering or exiting the Apollo Theater from the rear will have to walk along “James Brown Way.”
Named for James Joe Brown Jr., America’s iconic entertainer, the former 126th St. thoroughfare located between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass Blvds. will now mark a Harlem honor to the acclaimed “hardest working man in show business.”
Renamed during a dedication ceremony that attracted elected officials, community residents, fans, and family members of the prolific, singer, songwriter, dancer, and businessman also known as the “Godfather of Soul” a diverse crowd rallied.
“He came through the back door of society,” Rev. Al Sharpton said, “He came through the back door of segregation. Even when he didn’t feel well, he’d walk through those doors and perform.”
Often described as a mentor to the promising activist and preacher, Brown’s influence is recalled by Sharpton’s slick-back hairstyle. On occasion he references the singer as a father figure he loved and respected.
As he watched the unveiling, Sharpton described the man he befriended and presented a special honor at the Soul Train Awards when he was no taller than the average teenager.
“Brown represented those who came from the guttermost to the uttermost. He was our star. He didn’t make it because someone put him there,” Sharpton said.
Councilwoman Inez Dickens said Brown could light up the local stage like no one else.
“Many have performed at the Apollo, but no one like the Godfather of Soul,” she said, who was a staunch advocate for the renaming of a Harlem street. “So it is fitting that we gather here today to dedicate the street behind the Apollo James Brown Way.”
Dickens was joined by state and federal political colleagues Rep. Charles Rangel and Assemblyman Keith Wright, both of whom presented proclamations to Brown’s family members
“In terms of individual pride, no one gave us more than James Brown,” Rangel said.
It took six years and petitions to the Council to approve the renaming. Harlem historian Jacob Morris relentlessly campaigned to ensure the outcome. It was not his first time on such a mission. Morris has worked to get a number of streets renamed, among them, one for W.E.B. Dubois and another for A. Philip Randolph.
“This street renaming starts the principle in New York to connect the history with the place. When we walk down this street, we walk down the same street that James Brown walked down,” Morris said.
Although born in extreme poverty in Barnwell, South Carolina, and adopted Augusta, Georgia as his home, Brown inherited Harlem as his true place of discovery. He first performed at the Apollo Theater in 1959. Three years later he recorded “Live at the Apollo.”
His performances afterwards became legendary. And two days after his Christmas Day death from congestive heart failure in 2006, his body was transported through the village in a horse-drawn glass, carriage and viewed in a gold coffin from the stage of the renowned performance venue. Thousands lined the perimeter of the showplace in order to pay final respects to the soul singer. The viewing lasted well into the evening when every single individual on line walked onstage to see the icon for the last time.
Sharpton served as official caretaker and throughout the entire day, stood in reverence to his friend and mentor until the casket was taken for transport to Augusta, Georgia. In the southern location Michael Jackson was seen crying after paying respect to the star he said inspired him most. Reportedly, Brown made an indelible imprint on a multitude of entertainers. British rocker Mick Jagger who produced the recently-aired HBO documentary entitled “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown” regularly admits to the impact Brown made on his career and music appreciation.
Despite the fact, both Brown’s parents abandoned him when he was a youngster he managed to overcome obstacles and emerged a role model that former President Richard Nixon relied on to attract votes.
Brown also supported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He traveled to Mississippi to join him when the worst of times threatened the black community. He is also credited with stopping riots, lootings, and burnings after King’s assassination.
Brown left school at age 12 but always encouraged young people to get an education.
“Don’t Be a Dropout” became a mantra he sung and recorded. Perhaps, his message resonated with his daughter Deanna who has made education a priority. She started the James Brown Academy of Music Performers in honor of her father and touts his commitment to education for young people.
Deanna beamed during the ceremony.
“Get your education,” she told the crowd on Saturday. “Without an education, you might as well be dead.”
Afterwards a reception and screening at the National Black Theatre united fans and family members to see “James Brown: The Man, the Music, and the Message.”
As Brown’s music blared along 125th St. Sharpton amplified the sentiments whispered and spoken loudly: “Now, for every artist, the only way to come to the stage of the Apollo is to go down James Brown Way.”
Catch you on the inside!