James Wadsworth Symington came to his life as a politician and his life as a singer by inheritance.

His mother, Evelyn, sang in the likes of New York's Waldorf Plaza, and his father, Stuart, was a Democratic U.S. senator from Missouri.

"I sang on every courthouse lawn in Missouri, 114 of them," Symington says, referring to his father's 1952 senate campaign. It was a performance he declined to repeat when he ran successfully for Congress in 1968. "That was Nixon's time," he says. "The issues were serious. In retrospect I should have sung more."

Symington's musical repertoire includes American and Russian folk tunes, French chansons and his own creations. He sings at Charlie's Georgetown a few times a year, earning $700 a night. But mostly, he performs to raise money for causes such as adult education and cancer research.

"I am a willing victim," he says. "I enjoy the singing and I like working for a cause--it sublimates my drive to sing and to be heard."

Symington, 55, served four terms as a Democratic congressman from Missouri. He has been a Washington attorney since he lost a 1976 bid for his party's nomination for the Senate seat vacated by his father.

Symington flirted with becoming a full-time singer briefly after law school. "The idea of regimenting music is uncongenial to me," he says. "I like to sing when the spirit moves me. But I couldn't live without music. No way. It helps prepare my head and stomach each day."