Usher had a very special reason to grieve the late music legend James Brown: After their duet at the 2005 Grammys, the “Godfather of Soul” anointed the Confessions singer the “Godson of Soul.”
“It couldn’t have been more of a pleasure to be recognized by James Brown,” Usher, 28, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “James Brown introduced me to soul. Because of him I was given a clear view of what a real performance is and should be. I learned showmanship from him.”
Brown impressed Usher from the moment they began preparing for their duet. “We’re in the rehearsals for the performance and James Brown arrives on time,” Usher says. “This is not something the new school of performers knows anything about. Mr. Brown was in a class by himself.”
The elder singer also revealed the secret of getting off on the right foot – literally. “One look at my sneakers and he laughed, saying, ‘You gonna fool around and break your ankles with those. You gotta have on the right shoes for your movement to be smooth.’ I’ll never forget it.”
But when Brown gave Usher the ultimate compliment, it came as a complete surprise. “Man, when he called me the ‘Godson of Soul,’ I damn near fell out backstage,” Usher says. “Truth be told, I was so excited while on stage that I didn’t even know that he gave me that name. It wasn’t until I was backstage in my dressing room and someone from my staff told me he named me that. Then I actually saw a replay of the awards show.”
The two singers reconnected in October 2005 at a benefit concert Usher held in his hometown for families affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “The last time we spoke was at my Project Restart event at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta,” Usher says. “He was so happy to be a part of my Gulf Coast relief project. His support showed me so much about his character. James Brown was a giver. James Brown earned his name as the hardest working man in show business. ‘Mr. Dynamite.’ ‘The Godfather of Soul.’ I will miss him.”
Brown, 73, died on Christmas Day in an Atlanta hospital after being admitted for pneumonia. A private funeral for family and friends will be held on Friday, followed by a public service on Saturday at James Brown Arena in Augusta, Ga., Brown’s agent, Frank Copsidas, told the Associated Press.