Charles Bradley is the epitome of an American success story. Born in 1948, Charles was raised by his grandmother in Florida until the age of eight, when he met his mother who asked him to come live in Brooklyn, New York with her. His defining moment as a youth was his older sister taking him to see James Brown at the Apollo Theater when he was 14. He was blown away and began to imitate Brown from vocal ticks to movements and facial expressions. He ran away from home and lived on the streets and in subway cars for two years. After traveling to Maine and working as a chef, people would tell him he looked like James Brown and would ask him if he could sing like him; Charles was too embarrassed to answer. But he could…
Charles eventually did end up performing half a dozen shows or so with a band until members of the band got drafted to Vietnam. He continued to work as a cook in Maine for 10 years. He then hitchhiked west across the country, living in upstate New York, Seattle, Canada and Alaska before settling down in California. He worked odd jobs and played small shows for 20 years in California.
In 1996, Charles mother beckoned him to move back to Brooklyn to get to know her. He began making a living there as ‘Black Velvet’, a James Brown impersonator. He went through some extremely tough personal issues during this period of his life, including almost dying due to an allergic reaction to penicillin and waking up one day to the sirens of police cars racing just down the road from his mother’s house to find his brother murdered.
Charles was eventually discovered performing as Black Velvet by a Daptone Records executive and released some original material on vinyl in 2002. Finally, Charles Bradley’s debut album No Time for Dreaming was released in 2011. Some may say it was 9 years in the making, although it could easily be argued that it was a lifetime in the making.
I saw Charles Bradley for the first time on Last Call with Carson Daly and his story and songs literally brought me to tears. As I slave away in my menial service jobs, men with grit and integrity like Charles Bradley help me keep my chin up and walk with a swagger and remember that we all have talents inside of us that are just waiting to emerge if we bear down and nurture them. If it took Mr. Bradley 64 years, I guess I can wait in the fire for a while longer. Thanks for the effort Charlie, I doff my cap to you sir.