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James Brown auction doesn't bring big bucks

James Brown's personal belongings drew a big crowd, but didn't rake in big bucks.
/ Source: Reuters

A controversial auction of soul singer James Brown's personal belongings fell short of expectations on Thursday, with more than 300 lots on offer taking in just over $850,000 at Christie's.

The auction, which followed months of legal wrangling over Brown's estate involving several children, ex-wives and girlfriends and others, won 11th hour clearance from a South Carolina judge only on Monday, perhaps depressing the total, which had been forecast at between $1 million and $2 million.

Brown's trademark capes often worn during his raucous performances were among two of the sale's top three lots, with David Letterman band director Paul Shaffer successfully bidding Brown's medical bracelet, estimated at $200 to $300, up to $32,500 including commission.

A black satin "James Brown" full length embroidered cape fetched $47,500 and was bought by an unidentified institution, while a red leather furniture set sold for $40,000, or 20 times its high estimate.

Despite the lower-than-expected results, Christie's pop culture specialist Simeon Lipman noted a packed sale room in which "relics from his public and private persona were sought after by collectors as demonstrated by the top selling items, which ranged from his iconic stage-worn capes and instruments, to his living room furniture and a medical ID bracelet."

Among other highlights was a denim jumpsuit, studded with GFOS (Godfather of Soul), which fetched $25,000.

In all 97 percent of the 317 lots on offer found buyers for a total of $857,688.

'Sad day’Several of Brown's children spoke out against the sale of their father's belongings on Thursday, which they conceded was needed to pay the estate's taxes and "put back some of the money that had been siphoned out" since Brown's death, as daughter Yamma Brown put it.

"We were not opposed to an auction per se," she said on the radio show of Rev. Al Sharpton, a close friend of the singer. "We were opposed to all of the items that went," she said. Brown said that a list the children submitted of items they didn't want sold had been ignored. "At the end of the day, everything went."

"It's a very sad day for me and my family," added her brother, Larry Brown.

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James Brown, known as the "Godfather of Soul" whose hits included "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)," died aged 73 on Christmas Day 2006 of congestive heart failure.

His estate has been the subject of much dispute and legal wrangling since his death, involving members of his large family including several adult children as well as ex-girlfriends and ex-wives.

Court-appointed trustees for his estate, variously reported to be worth between $100 million and $200 million, filed lawsuit in South Carolina earlier this year against Brown's business managers, former estate manager, a law firm and the investment bank Morgan Stanley, claiming fraud had been conspired against the singer and accusing the bank of not preventing fraud by the managers.

Another court hearing in South Carolina is slated for August 19, but Sharpton noted that even if the children prevailed as Brown's rightful heirs, his personal effects could remain beyond their reach.