Herb Feemster of Peaches and Herb Fame Lives the Life of a Working-Class Soul Man
Friday, May 29, 2009
Today will unfold just like all the other days for Herb Feemster, the suave "Reunited" and "Shake Your Groove Thing" singer from Southeast Washington who rose to international fame in the 1960s and '70s with Peaches and Herb.
The 67-year-old soul man with the sweet falsetto will scrape himself out of bed and push off from his suburban Maryland home in the still of the night. He'll pull into a Penn Quarter parking lot between 4:30 and 5. He'll put on his patent leather shoes, gray slacks, white shirt, red tie and blue blazer. And by 6, he'll be on the clock at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, where he works as a deputized court security officer for the U.S. Marshals Service.
Never mind that the first new Peaches and Herb album in more than a quarter-century is being released today. Feemster, who uses the stage name Herb Fame, isn't planning some wild celebration, despite having finally reunited with his recording career. (And yes, it feels so good, 'cause he understood. Of course.)
The idea of a pop star slumming in the working class isn't a regular part of the celebrity-culture diet. Stars really aren't supposed to be like us. They're supposed to lead glamorous lives, always and forever -- unless they're in rehab or on a reality show, or both. But they're not supposed to be in the middle, with the rest of us workies.
Feemster, though, isn't concerned with pop star convention.
"I'm going to show up to work," he says with a shrug. "It's not like a holiday for me."
You will not, then, find Feemster humming any new (or old) Peaches and Herb songs in the halls of justice.
"I come here to work," he says during an interview in an empty courtroom. "I really enjoy coming to the court every day. I enjoy the people here; I smile and laugh with them every day. And I enjoy standing in the court and listening to these trials."
Some entertainers hire bodyguards; Feemster is more or less working as one, as his duties include judicial personnel protection. He carries a Glock and two extra magazines on his belt, and if you want to make a No. 1-with-a-bullet joke, well, by all means.
Thirty years ago this month, Peaches and Herb were perched atop the Billboard singles chart with the No. 1 song in the country: "Reunited," an impossibly romantic and sentimental ballad that became a wedding-dance staple and the soundtrack to so much seduction. "I always hear people saying that their child was made off of that song," Feemster says proudly. "Reunited" was preceded by the propulsive Peaches and Herb smash "Shake Your Groove Thing," one of the more irresistible and enduring songs of the disco era.
But when the million-selling hits stopped coming for the so-called Sweethearts of Soul, Feemster went back to work. Again.
A New Beat
In the early 1970s, after a series of chart successes -- and subsequent dissatisfaction with the music industry -- he'd taken a break from the business of being Herb Fame to work as a D.C. police officer. When he revived the Peaches and Herb brand later that decade, he quit the force, trading his silver police badge for a couple of platinum records.