When James Brown was playing a show in Maryland in 1962, he turned to Danny Ray and asked him if he had ever been on stage. “Nah, man,” answered Ray, who at the time was working as Brown’s personal valet. “Well, uh, tonight’s your night,” Brown told him.

The regular presenter who warmed up the crowd before the flamboyant soul singer went on stage had failed to turn up and Brown turned to the first person he encountered backstage for a replacement. Ray stepped into the breach so admirably that he worked as Brown’s “hype man” for 46 years until the singer’s death in 2006, whipping the audience into a near-frenzy before the star took the stage.

“Are you ready to get dooooooown?” he would ask the crowd, as the band riffed behind him. “Are you ready for Jaaaaaames Brown? Because right about now, it’s star time!”

Ray with Brown, backstage at the Apollo Theater in 1964.

The patter grew more expansive over the years as more hits, such as “I Feel Good,” “Sex Machine” and “Get Up Offa That Thing,” were clocked up and added to the introduction. “Ladies and gentlemen, there are seven acknowledged wonders of the world,” Ray would say. “You are about to witness the eighth.”

On some nights Ray added a call and response, leading the crowd in chanting Brown’s name until finally his voice hit a rafter-raising crescendo. “This man will make your liver quiver. This man will make your bladder splatter. This man will freeze your knees! Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you, the hardest-working man in showbiz, the Godfather of Soul — Mr James Brown!” By then the entire house was in uproar and Ray’s fevered introductions, which imitated the style of a gospel preacher, were captured on many of Brown’s live albums. Nor did his role end when Brown took the stage. At the climax of the show, by which time the star had been singing and dancing for two hours or more, he would pretend to collapse while singing “Please Please Please.”

At this point Ray appeared to help Brown to his feet and wrap him in a velvet cape. As Brown staggered off stage like a punch-drunk prizefighter, he would then appear to regain his strength. The cape was flung aside and he would start singing again, only to fall to his knees once more, perfectly timed to the beat. Ray once again draped the cape over him and led him into the wings as the band kept playing, while the audience went wild. On a good night, Brown and Ray could repeat the stunt three or four times before bringing the show to an end.

“Are you ready to get dooooooown?” he would ask the crowd, as the band riffed behind him. “Are you ready for Jaaaaaames Brown? Because right about now, it’s star time!”

The routine became famous after Brown and Ray performed it at a concert filmed for cinema release in 1964. The Rolling Stones were top of the bill and had the unenviable task of following this piece of showmanship. Keith Richards later admitted that trying to follow Brown was the most foolhardy thing they ever did. The film helped to elevate Brown from being a popular R’n’B artist with a predominantly black following to international pop stardom.

Brown wears a cape as he is led offstage by Ray and a member of the Famous Flames (left) at the Apollo Theater, 1964.

When Ray wasn’t out front, he was fully occupied backstage, managing Brown’s entourage and organizing the singer’s wardrobe, which consisted of 150 suits in every color of the rainbow, and from which Brown selected for the five costume changes he undertook in the course of a single show.

Band members and business managers came and went by the multitude but Ray was the one constant presence, staying by Brown’s side as his right-hand man. As he became increasingly indispensable, his role expanded from valet to trusted consigliere, managing Brown’s bulging rolodex of girlfriends and acting as a go-between with the tax collectors and dealers who were endlessly on his tail, as the singer struggled with drug addiction.

At Brown’s funeral he placed a cape bearing the words “Godfather of Soul” over his open coffin.

Daniel Brown Ray was born in 1935, in Birmingham, Alabama, the son of Lucy, a homemaker, and Willie Ray, a barber. He joined the US army in 1958 and on his discharge three years later moved to New York with his wife Rosemarie. She died in 1986. Trim and dapper and with a passing resemblance to Sammy Davis Jr, he was not a singer or a musician but was desperate to find a job in showbusiness.

With no contacts in the music world, he took to hanging out at the Apollo, New York’s premier black entertainment venue in Harlem, seeking to ingratiate himself with the singers who performed there, such as Sam Cooke.

It was backstage at the Apollo one night in 1961 that Brown offered him a job as his dresser. “I guess he couldn’t find anybody to shine his shoes and clean all the outfit changes he had,” he recalled. Ray was an impeccably smart dresser himself; Brown’s daughter Deanna Brown-Thomas reported that until the end of his life he insisted on wearing an impeccably tailored three-piece suit, even to go to the grocery store.

Danny Ray, right-hand man to James Brown, was born on March 22, 1935. He died of undisclosed causes on February 2, 2021, aged 85