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James Brown talks to fans in Vicenza, Italy, on Wednesday.

James Brown talks to fans in Vicenza, Italy, on Wednesday. (Kent Harris / S&S)

VICENZA, Italy — Many of those gathered in the post theater Wednesday afternoon weren’t even alive when James Brown had his first hit.

But the man known as “the Godfather of Soul” and “the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business” is still going strong at 73, 50 years after recording his first professional success. He’s currently on a quick concert swing through Europe and was running on a tight schedule Wednesday. But he took time to talk to hundreds gathered, some of them soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last three years.

“When I look at these smiling faces, I can say one thing: I feel good,” he said, taking a line he made famous from his song by the same name and one of his numerous hits. “But I’d feel better when you’re all home for good.”

And he looked pretty good as well, according to Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne).

“He’s 73, but looks like 42,” Helmick said, presenting Brown with a few tokens of appreciation for making the appearance.

Brown answered a few questions from the audience after saying he didn’t want to talk politics or business.

“You would hear some language the pope doesn’t use (on those subjects),” he said.

Brown said he knew servicemembers don’t debate the merits of their assignments, but are just supposed to follow orders.

“Just do what you were sent to do and do it well,” he said. “And come home safely. God is on your side, and so is James Brown.”

Brown told the dozens of children gathered to focus on their education. His father had only a second-grade education, but served his country and is one of the singer’s inspirations.

“He was in the Navy. I hope that’s not a bad word here,” he said, getting some laughs.

Many of those in the audience planned to attend Brown’s concert in downtown Vicenza later Wednesday. The United Service Organizations sold 129 tickets to the show. Not all of those who wanted to talk to him or get an autograph had their wishes granted as the singer ran out of time. But dozens of people did get in a word or two.

“He’s been one of my favorites since I was a little kid,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Mary Hawkins, who scored a picture and a few minutes with the singer. “I’m planning to see his show tonight, too.”

Brown’s wife, who has reportedly been ill for some time, was treated by Italian medical authorities while he was making his appearance. Base officials said they couldn’t comment on her condition.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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