- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2001

As a child, James Brown says, he would sing and dance for the soldiers stationed in Augusta, Ga.
The youngster would coax the GIs to visit his aunt's brothel, which he called home.
Today, many years after that ignominious upbringing, and after several adult brushes with the law, Mr. Brown is singing to save the children. The metamorphosis is startling, but when Mr. Brown belts out a message, he sounds convincing.
The "godfather of soul" touched down in Washington last month for a taping of "Pop Across America," TNN's new traveling talk show. The 68-year-old singer, who performed a new song, "Killing Is Out, School Is In," speaks of childhood violence with the same intensity that he brings to his stage gyrations.
Mr. Brown seemed slightly vulnerable while relaxing in a modest trailer with an equally modest posse before the show and not quite the larger-than-life figure one would expect.
"This is a happy medium to get the message across," Mr. Brown says in a low, wrinkled growl, which smoothes itself out when wrapped in song.
"No one's looking out for [the children]" he says. "People's lives are at stake."
"You can't learn with a gun," he adds.
Mr. Brown knows a little about that.
A high-speed chase with police in 1988, followed by charges of illegal drug and gun possession, landed Mr. Brown in jail for two years. That wasn't the end of his woes. In 1998, he was treated for an addiction to painkillers, then later charged with possession of marijuana and unlawful use of a firearm.
He compares his current work to his support of the 1960s civil rights movement. The problem, as he sees it, transcends politics.
"We gotta support our president, whether he's a Democrat or Republican," says Mr. Brown, a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "I just wanna be some help."
"Who knows? I may run [for the presidency]. My running mate will be God," he says with a throaty laugh.
His Maker gets some of the credit for his enduring career.
"I pray. I eat good. I feed the diabetes. And I have a good partner right there," he says, pointing to a beaming woman in his trailer decades his junior.
Mr. Brown, his hair wavy and his countenance shopworn but lively, takes a sanguine approach to his career.
"I don't need any more hit records," says Mr. Brown, who boasts 98 entries on Billboard's Top 40 R&B; singles charts through his career, 17 of which reached No. 1.
From his first smash, "Please, Please, Please" in 1956, to R&B; classics such as "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)," Mr. Brown has been a vibrant force in American music.
His career sputtered as it entered the 1980s but rebounded with his hit single "Living in America" from 1985's "Rocky IV." Today, many rap and hip-hop stars sample his voice and music and praise him as both a creative font and an inspiration.
His live act shows no signs of abatement.
"It's an everyday job we're doing, but we like it," he says. "I read a little Psalms, and then I'm on the road."
Singing the same songs year after year is "like a minister preaching to the people. The text gets a little dry," he says, "but the crowd reaction keeps it fresh."


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