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Danny Ray, James Brown’s Longtime ‘Cape Man’ and Emcee, Dead at 85

“Mr. Ray was the second-hardest working man in show business,” James Brown estate says

'Godfather of Soul' James Brown backstage at the Apollo Theatre with his cape man Danny Ray in 1964 in New York, New York.

Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Danny Ray, James Brown’s longtime emcee and “cape man,” has died at the age of 85.

Ray, a staple at the Godfather of Soul’s legendary live shows, died Tuesday night of natural causes, the Richmond Country coroner confirmed to the Augusta Chronicle.

“The James Brown estate mourns the passing of Mr. Danny Ray, the legendary emcee and cape man for James Brown.” the estate said in a statement. “Ray worked with Brown from 1960 until the music legend’s death on Christmas day 2006. He became famous for draping a cape over Brown at the end of his signature tune ‘Please, Please, Please.’ Mr. Ray was the second-hardest working man in show business.”

Rev. Al Sharpton tweeted of Ray, “Saddened to get the call that Danny Ray, famed MC and cape man for James Brown, died at 85 years old. He was like an Uncle to me as I traveled the world years ago w/ The Godfather of Soul. Danny will never be forgotten. Rest In Peace and Power, family.”

“He was very instrumental in keeping the machine rolling,” Brown’s former guitarist Ronald Laster told the Augusta Chronicle. “Danny was in charge of everything. He was very defensive; he was very close to James.”

In what became an iconic part of Brown’s concerts, Ray would walk onstage mid-“Please, Please, Please” and drape Brown with a cape, only for the singer to explode out of the cape with a second wind. Ray and Brown played off each other effortlessly; with Brown’s theatrical pseudo-pains giving rise to Ray’s offers of assistance followed by Brown’s burst of energy. The routine was captured on episodes of the T.A.M.I Show and the Ed Sullivan Show.

Ray first met Brown at the Apollo in 1960 and originally served as the singer’s valet before quickly becoming Brown’s emcee. “Next thing I know, he had me doing live albums for his stage show,” Ray told the Augusta Chronicle in 2011. The first time I ever did a live show, it scared me to death. It was up in Maryland. The guy who usually came out to do the show, he didn’t show up. So he asked me, ‘Have you ever been on stage?’ I said, ‘Naw, man.’ He said, ‘Well, uh, tonight’s your night,’ I said, ‘What do you mean tonight’s my night?’”

Ray, whose voice can be heard in introductions on multiple Brown live releases, remained a member of Brown’s touring unit from 1960 until Brown’s death in 2006; at Brown’s memorial, Ray draped the open casket with a “Godfather of Soul” cape. Ray similarly draped a microphone with Brown’s cape following a In Memoriam salute at the 2007 Grammy Awards. Following Brown’s death, Ray remained a presence in Augusta, GA, MCing various events well into old age and traveling the east coast on tour multiple times a year.

In an interview five years after Brown’s death, Ray could still recite his famed intro: “Right about now, it’s star time. Are you ready for star time? Yes! Introducing, ladies and gentlemen, the man who has given the world over 44 golden soul classics, tunes that will never die. Tunes like’ Try Me,’ ‘Please, Please, Please,’ ‘I Feel Good,’ ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,’ ‘Sex Machine,’ ‘Big Payback,’ ‘Get Up Offa That Thang,’ ‘Don’t Be a Dropout’ and ‘Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.’ I introduce you to the hardest-working man in show biz, ladies and gentlemen, the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown.”

Former the J.B.’s bassist Bootsy Collins tweeted Wednesday, “We lost another Legend Mr. Danny Ray, “Some called him Cape-man because he put on the Cape for James Brown, but for me when a Man Don’t need his head Rubbed to activate Other’s, he becomes Bigger than his [perceived] appearance! Thx u Mr. Ray. Bootsy baby!!!.”

From Rolling Stone US