Mount Vernon cardiologist Cleve Francis's patients don't have to go to the office to see him; all they have to do is turn on Country Music Television.
Francis, an aspiring country singer, went to Nashville two weeks ago to be interviewed by the nation's two cable country music television networks about his new album, "Last Call for Love." His first single from the album, "Lovelight," which is also his first video, is climbing the top 100 chart.
Francis's video was televised for the first time in April and chosen as a "Pick of the Week" by The Nashville Network. Two days later the video went into play on Country Music Television. It's been playing ever since.
Francis has a hectic schedule as president of a four-physician practice, as secretary-treasurer of the medical staff at Mount Vernon Hospital, and as director of cardiac rehabilitation at the hospital, but he said he never realized how much time and effort goes into making a video.
"I tell you," he said, "I was praying to get back to the intensive care unit. Treating a heart attack is a lot easier."
It was a patient's heart attack that indirectly was the catalyst for Francis's "Last Call for Love." When the patient's brother, John Garfield Hall, and Francis talked in the hospital, they found that they both held unusual positions in the music industry.
Hall, who is white, is lead singer of a black rhythm and blues group, the Heartbeats. Francis, one of about 200 black cardiologists in the United States, is one of only a handful of black country singers.
Hall, who was grateful to the doctor for saving his brother's life, asked to hear some of Francis's music.
"He was good," Hall said, "so I opened a few doors for him. Now I'm his manager." One of the doors Hall opened belonged to Playback Records President Jack Gale.
"We needed something different," Gale said. "Cleve sings totally different things and he's dedicating himself to this . . . . Country music is wide open for blacks now."
Francis had minor success with a couple of rhythm and blues albums he cut a few years ago. He says most people expect him to sing rhythm and blues, which he does at Eugertha's in the District on Monday and Tuesday nights, but he says he sings everything from gospel to folk to blues to country.
Music has always been a part of his life. He put himself through Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., by singing in Holiday Inns and then continued singing to help get a master's degree in biology at the College of William and Mary and a medical degree from the Medical College of Virginia.
And he kept on singing. He likes to tell people, "Other doctors play golf; I play music.
"If you have medicine," Francis said, "you need something else to relieve the tension and pressure of someone else's life being in your hands . . . . With music, no one's life is hanging in the wings if I miss a note."
Recently he performed on jam night at GW's Restaurant, a country nightspot on King Street in Old Town Alexandria that attracts a predominantly white clientele. At the sight of a slightly built black man in a cowboy bar, some patrons thought he might be heckled. But Francis was cheered for the three songs he sang from his new.
Francis, 45, is the oldest in a family of six children in the small town of Jennings, La., the only son of a laborer and a maid.
"It was a crapshoot whether you got out of Jennings or not," Francis said. "One way out was the military. But I held out . . . I wanted to go to college.
"I believe in myself. My mother put in all her children a sense of who they were. We didn't have fancy clothes, but they were clean and that's all that mattered . . . .
"I was always fascinated by the guitar. We were so poor I decided to make one," he said.
When Francis was 8, he made that guitar out of a cigar box, nails and some wires from window screens. It was at that point, he said, that his mother told Francis's father, "We're going to have to do something about getting that boy a guitar or he's going to tear the whole house apart."
So his parents saved quarters over eight months and bought a Sears Silvertone guitar for $25. A week later Francis was singing gospel music and playing the Silvertone in church, getting his start singing gospel music, as many country singers do.
Today he plays a 12-string acoustic-electric guitar "just like the one Glen Campbell has," and is working on several songs from Campbell's music company.
Country music, Francis said, "is nice . . . peaceful . . . sexy . . . down home." He said that "the beauty of country music is that it changes" with the times and "is never really reactive to politics."
"I kind of stayed away from politics because I want to appeal to all people," he said.
Francis is known to many in the Washington area not only for his work as a doctor but also for his work in social causes. He has performed several of his songs at area concerts, including "Reflections on the Wall" about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, "Martin" about Martin Luther King Jr. and "We're All in This Together" about AIDS.
Francis says he wants to be a positive role model for young people. He has counseled patients' children about career goals and spoken at area schools.
"A lot of these kids see drug dealers who drive Mercedeses and have beepers and I tell them, 'I drive a Mercedes and have a beeper, too.' I let them know there is another way to go about getting those things.
"Besides, you never know," he said, "there might be one kid out there who might want to be a doctor and a country singer."