Fans gather for Apollo Theater’s Jackson memorial

Hundreds of Michael Jackson fans circled the block around Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater Tuesday for a public tribute to the pop star, some spontaneously singing their favorite songs and dancing in the street.

“I thought that in my time I’d have the opportunity to see him in concert,” said Victoria Campomames, who did a brief moonwalk on the sidewalk as “Rock With You” played from a nearby store. “This is about the closest I’m gonna get.”

Campomames, wearing a Jackson-style spangled black jacket, fedora and white gloves, took the day off from her job at a grocery store in Morrisville, Vt., for the all-day tribute to Jackson at the fabled venue that helped make him a star.

Thousands were expected to pay their respects at the theater, which planned to let them in 600 at a time to listen to his music, watch a video tribute and leave flowers and memorabilia.

The event was set to start at 2 p.m., but many people were already waiting Tuesday morning, dancing as they lined up with T-shirts, posters, album covers and other mementoes.

Ebony Johnson, 19, arrived at midnight to secure a spot near the front of the line, clutching a Jackson scrapbook she started when she was 14. An image of the star was tattooed on her left arm. She said she got the tattoo last month in anticipation of his planned comeback shows in London.

“I love him so much ? I can’t explain that in words,” she said. “I felt like Michael was my family.”

Fans wrote messages on a wall of remembrance outside the 125th street theater. “God bless and be with you M. Jackson,” wrote one fan. “We all share your grief. Love always,” read a message to his family.

Fans began converging on the Apollo soon after Jackson died Thursday in Los Angeles. It has continued to serve as an impromptu memorial site in the days since.

The pop icon’s ties to the theater go back to 1967, when The Jackson 5 won the Apollo’s Amateur Night contest. The appearance is credited with helping to launch the brother act’s career, which later propelled Jackson to solo stardom.

Jackson last appeared at the Apollo in 2002, invited by former President Bill Clinton for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.

Tuesday’s salute was to begin with a eulogy by the Rev. Al Sharpton. A moment of silence was planned for 5:26 p.m., the time East Coast fans learned that Jackson had died.

The Apollo also played a role in remembrances for James Brown after his death in 2006, hosting a public viewing of the “Godfather of Soul” for thousands of fans.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.