“Screaming Eagle Of Soul,” Charles Bradley has passed on.
The soul singer, whose late-blossoming career was inspired by performances by his idol, the legendary James Brown, died on Saturday, Sept. 23, according to a statement by his publicist. He was 68.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Charles Bradley,” a statement posted on the crooner’s Facebook page reads. “Mr. Bradley was truly grateful for all the love he’s received from his fans and we hope his message of love is remembered and carried on. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”
In 2016, Bradley was diagnosed with stomach cancer and although he received a clean bill of health earlier this year, the cancer soon returned and spread to his liver.
According to Bradley’s rep, he died surrounded by family and friends, including musicians he worked closely with throughout his career.
Born in Gainesville, Fla., Bradley grew up in Brooklyn before leaving home at the tender age of 14. “If I’m not wanted, I’m gone. And I left,” he said in a 2013 interview.
A lover of music from a young age, he often visited his grandmother who worked at a local rec center and would “watch the older people dance, and I would get up there and dance with them. I just love dancing. When the music is really hitting my soul, then I really want to get into it,” he once told the Chicago Tribune.
Still, it took some time for Bradley to find his way. He enlisted in the federal vocational training program Job Corps, which shipped him off to Bar Harbor, Maine, where he worked as a chef. “I was very shocked when a guy (there) told me I looked like James Brown. He asked me could I sing, and I told him no,” Bradley told the publication. “I was ashamed. I was scared to sing.”
Eventually, Bradley booked a concert in nearby Poland Spring. “They thought there was only going to be about 30 or 40 people there, but there were over 500 people,” he recalled. “And when they called me onstage I didn’t come because I was scared, so they came and they pushed me out onstage. … One guy came and gave me a big push and I went running onstage. And when I did, they started screaming and I thought, ‘Wow, what’s this?’ When I opened my mouth and started singing, it was a feeling I’ll never forget. … I haven’t stopped singing yet.”
From there, “I did (shows) about five or six times, but the guys who were playing with me got drafted into Vietnam. We were planning that when (they came back) we were going to do live music but we all lost track of one another. When I got out of Job Corps I was an empty shell. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
In his 40s, Bradley returned to his hometown of Brooklyn, where he kicked off his career performing as a James Brown impersonator under the name Black Velvet. In 2002, he was scouted by Gabriel Roth, a Daptone co-founder and recording engineer.
In 2011, Bradley released his first album, No Time for Dreaming, at age 62. He was also the subject of a documentary, Soul of America, which premiered at South by Southwest in 2012. He went on to release two more albums, 2013’s Victim of Love and 2016’s Changes.
In lieu of flowers, his rep requests that donations be made to the following organizations: All-Stars Project and Music Unites.
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