"Mr. Brown, you lined them around the corner at the Apollo again," the Rev. Al Sharpton told The Showbuzz's Muni Jaitly, musing on what he'd say to his long-time friend if he could.
Hundreds of fans followed the carriage on its way to the theater, singing the chorus of Brown's anthem, "Say it Loud — I'm Black and I'm Proud."
Brown, who died of heart failure Christmas morning at 73, lay in repose on the Apollo stage where he made his 1956 debut and recorded a memorable live album in 1962.
For many, it wasn't the first time braving a large crowd to get a glimpse of Brown.
"The first time he came to the Apollo, I was in the audience," said Jean Paul, 58. "It was a moving experience I had just come from Haiti."
"When I was 9 years old, my mother and I waited in line for quite some time to get to see him, and I'll never forget that because it was the most exciting thing for a 9-year-old to see James Brown perform," Daryl Poe told WCBS-TV's Christine Sloane.
Norman Brand, 55, of Harlem, bowed his head and gently touched the top of the carriage, then recalled the emotion he felt hearing "I'm Black and I'm Proud" for the first time in his native Alabama.
"It really changed the attitude of most black people," Brand said. "It was like a wake-up call. Before that, if you were called black, it was like an insult. Just one song and one word can change a whole situation.''
"Every facet of my career from my attitude on stage to the way I listen to music," hip-hop musician Craig Mack told Jaitly, commenting on Brown's influence. "I mean, the first record that I picked up was a James Brown record. My mother used to play James Brown records Sunday morning, cleaning the house."
Sharpton raced through the night in a van with the casket, arriving about three hours late but vowing to make sure the R&B star did not miss his date.
2"He was a superstar for common people, and I wanted to make sure that common people got to see him one last time," Sharpton told The Associated Press late Wednesday at the start of his journey from Georgia.
"It's going to be a royal day in Harlem," he said, promising "the kind of homecoming we haven't seen in a long time, if ever, in the Harlem community."
Some fans arrived as early as midnight for a chance to pay their respects.
To many, Brown was more than just the energetic performer once introduced to the Apollo audience as "Mr. Dynamite."
Video: Fans Await James Brown's Arrival At Apollo, WCBS-TV's Christine Sloan reports"He seemed like family, a friend of mine," said Brenda Harper of Harlem, who was the first to arrive at the Apollo, shortly after midnight. Fourteen years ago, she said, "I jumped on the stage and he danced with me."
Apollo historian Billy Mitchell said Brown routinely drew the largest crowds of anyone at the theater.
The Apollo has been used for public viewings several times before, but always for employees. In 1992, the theater provided a last chance to honor Ralph Cooper, who founded Amateur Night, the weekly talent contest that launched the careers of Brown, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, among scores of others.
The theater also was a showcase for such superstars as Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and a young Michael Jackson.
On Friday, a private ceremony for Brown is planned at a church in Georgia. A second public viewing of the singer's body will be held Saturday at the James Brown Arena there.
Brown continued to work to the end; he died less than a week before he was to perform New Year's Eve at B.B. King's blues club in Manhattan.