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Thousands say goodbye to singer Rick James in hometown

Sunday, August 15, 2004

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Grammy Award-winning funk singer Rick James was laid to rest Saturday in his hometown, where 6,000 people waited for hours to pay their final respects.

The line of mourners stretched more than two city blocks for the funeral service. Seventy gospel singers and a band performed a lively tribute.

"This Buffalo project boy was like a phoenix rising from ashes to the pinnacle of America's musical world," said his cousin, former Ohio congressman Louis Stokes. He attended the funeral, along with the singer's three children, aunt, uncle, other cousins and friends.

The singer died in his sleep last week at his home near Universal City, Calif. James, whose real name was James Johnson Jr., was 56.

An autopsy has failed to determine what caused the singer's death. Results of a toxicology test were pending. James, who suffered a stroke in 1998, was a diabetic and had a pacemaker.

James never failed to publicly praise his late mother, Mabel Sims Gladden, said Stokes, who described a mutual devotion between the hardworking mother and son.

"He took us all with him on a roller coaster ride," said Stokes, whose brother, Carl Stokes, was elected the first black mayor of a major city, Cleveland, in 1967. "Rick James became our family's first superstar."

James' 1981 hit "Super Freak" earned him a Grammy for best R&B song nearly a decade later, after rapper MC Hammer, who shared the Grammy, used it in his "U Can't Touch This."

"He was without a doubt a musical genius," said longtime friend Aaron Dublin, who worked with James until 1983. "He changed the game of music. There was never anybody like him before and there's never been anybody like him since."


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