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Sharp Notes January 08 2004

LEGEND IN NEED: The British press might slobber over a band like the Hiss, who've been trudging away for well over two years in the entertainment industry. But for a guy like Atlanta rhythm and blues singer Tommy Brown, who got his start performing over 66 years ago, a different kind of status is conferred.

So when Brown's Riverdale home burned down last month, destroying many of his possessions, members of the Atlanta Blues Society stepped forward to help the 72-year-old legend get back on his feet and find a new place to live. First, the group set up an emergency fund through its website, www.atlantabluessociety.com, where donations can be made via PayPal. Friends are also planning a benefit for Brown at Blind Willie's Sunday, Jan. 25, starting at 6 p.m.

While Brown scored his biggest success in the early '50s, singing with the Griffin Brothers on songs such as "Weepin' and Cryin'" (a No. 1 R&B hit that he wrote himself), Brown also performed as a dancer and, later, a comedian. His first year of elementary school, in fact, Brown appeared at Atlanta's Royal Theater as a dancer in a school fundraiser. "The next week I did a show at the YMCA and got paid $7, and I guess I was a professional because I got paid from then on," Brown says.

During Sweet Auburn's heyday, Brown performed at all the clubs and theaters along Auburn Avenue, and throughout the South on the "chitlin' circuit." When the demand for his style of early R&B dried up, Brown switched to comedy and continued to tour extensively. By the late '70s, Brown went into semi-retirement and ran a personal care home for the elderly and mentally challenged.

At the time of the fire, Brown was caring for two mentally challenged men in his home. One of them, Brown says, had been smoking and put the unextinguished butt in his coat pocket, then put the coat in his closet. When the fire erupted, all three men got out of the house uninjured. In addition to new housing for himself, Brown has been trying to find a place for the two men to live as well.

While he never stopped performing entirely, it became very sporadic in recent decades. In the past few years, however, early R&B record collectors tracked Brown down and encouraged him to get back into singing. In addition to regular local appearances, Brown has performed in Europe and released a CD featuring his classic recordings. And he recently recorded a new CD featuring a mix of oldies, covers and a fresh batch of songs, which is set for release in the coming weeks.

SUMMER LOVIN': Though it's a little early yet to really start thinking about your plans for spring and summer music adventures, it's definitely not too early to start thinking about thinking about your spring and summer music adventures. With that in mind, the folks at Clear Channel want you to know that Music Midtown will be back for its 11th go-round April 30-May 2. The $45 three-day passes will go on sale in March, when they'll also announce the always-exhaustive lineup. We don't know what'll be on tap this year, but you can bet it will include the usual potpourri of genres, with a particular emphasis on ridiculous has-beens from the '70s and '80s that always make the festival a fun entertainment bet.

A few weeks after Music Midtown kicks off the outdoor music season, Centennial Park's On The Bricks summer concert series will be back as well. It'll run every Friday night, May 28-Aug. 20 (except June 18). The organizers are no doubt feeling pretty good about the demise of 99X's Friday-night summer concert series, which sparked some competition and antagonism the last two years. No word yet on OTB's 2004 lineup, but prepare yourself for at least a couple bands wielding acoustic guitars and baseball caps.