James Brown's contribution to music is priceless. But his personal possessions have a price tag.
Christie's, the New York auction house, today will try to sell more than 300 items owned by Brown, including capes, awards and hair-care products.
The sale is expected to bring in $2 million.
Marc Eliot, who co-wrote Brown's 2005 autobiography, called the sale sad, “but it happens to everybody.”
“If it makes somebody happy, then what's the harm? He's not going to be using it anymore.”
Even sadder is the turmoil over Brown's estate, “with all the lawsuits and anger,” Eliot said.
Two of Brown's former business managers asked a judge to stop the sale, which is supported by trustees of the singer's estate. An S.C. appeals court judge denied the request.
A perusal of the auction's online catalog reveals Brown, who died on Christmas Day 2006, was a master self-historian.
There are handwritten notes, signed contracts and the inmate inventory sheet listing the clothing and accessories that were taken when Brown went to prison in 1989 for aggravated assault and failure to stop for police.
Most items are expected to bring less than $1,000. But others, like the jumpsuit he wore in 1974 when he performed before the Mohammed Ali-George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match in Zaire, are expected to go for $5,000 or more.
A black cape embroidered with his name, the 1986 Grammy for “Living in America” and a Hammond B-3 electric organ each have an estimated value of $15,000 to $20,000.
Howard Kramer, director of curatorial affairs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, said the museum is interested in several pieces.
“We would love to have some of the things there,” he said. “But some of this stuff is out of our financial reach.”
He would not say what the museum would bid on.
A hand-tinted photograph of Brown at 9 years old, listed at $500, piqued Kramer's interest during a phone conversation Tuesday. The photo would have been expensive for Brown, who grew up poor.
“That's a beautiful piece,” Kramer said. “He made a point of keeping that.”
Interest in Brown's collection is high, said Sara Fox of Christie's. “We've had inquiries from all over the world,” she said.
Others, like Eliot, aren't so sure there is a strong market for Brown's possessions.
“The stuff probably means the most to him,” Eliot continued. “It goes from art to him to artifacts for someone else.”
The casual and serious bidders will be separated quickly because, as Kramer put it, the sale “is not eBay. This is the big leagues.”
On Tuesday, eBay listed more than 700 Brown items. One of the most expensive, at $200, was a program from Brown's funeral, something that can't be bought at Christie's.
About 8,000 people got to take that piece of Brown home for free.