R.I.P. Modern Soul Legend Charles Bradley

The 68-Year-Old Has Lost His Fight with Cancer

Sep 23, 2017 Photography by Chris Edwards Bookmark and Share


We are very sad to report that modern soul legend Charles Bradley has died. The 68-year-old has lost his battle with cancer today. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer last fall and halted touring. After undergoing treatment, he was given a clean bill of health and was back on the road earlier this year. But the cancer returned and spread to his liver and earlier this month he cancelled tour dates again due to his illness.

Bradley became a successful musician late in life. Born in Gainesville, Florida, in 1948, he was raised by his maternal grandmother until the age of eight, when his mother returned and took him to live in Brooklyn. In 1962 his sister took him to see James Brown at the Apollo Theater and that had a huge impact on him. He ran away from home at age 14, was homeless for two years (sleeping in subway cars). In the 1970s he hitchhiked around the country for a while, before ending up in California in 1977. Along the way he played small shows here and there, but didn't get any recognition.

It was when he moved back to Brooklyn in 1996 to reconnect with his mother that his music career slowly began to flower, first with Bradley performing as a James Brown impersonator named Black Velvet. After overcoming various personal setbacks (such as almost dying due to an allergic reaction to penicillin and the murder of his brother), while performing as Black Velvet he was discovered by Gabriel Roth, the co-founder of soon to be iconic Brooklyn soul label Daptone Records, who partnered him with producer (and future Menahan Sreet Band member) Tom Brenneck to record some initial singles released between 2002 and 2010, culminating in 2011's debut album, No Time for Dreaming, released when Bradley was 62. Soul of America, Poull Brien's documentary on Bradley, followed in 2012. Bradley then released two more albums, 2013's Victim of Love and 2016's Changes.

All throughout he was a tireless and energetic performer, still channeling James Brown, but now with his own music. Performing to his limit in his 60s garnered him respect and acclaim. Bradley also had a special bond with his audiences. As he told us in an interview last year: "When you look at the expressions on the people's faces, and you can see some of your own life in their faces and the changes that some people are going through. That's why sometimes I like to go into the audience and just hug them, especially when I see someone hurting. People come to the front of the stage, and they whisper in my ear and tell me about their personal lives.

Bradley sometimes performed with label-mate Sharon Jones, another modern soul legend who also found success late in life and passed away due to cancer last year.

In a statement last October when Bradley was first diagnosed with cancer, he said, "I will fight through this like I've fought through the many other obstacles in my life.... Music is how I share my love with the world, and the love that my fans have given back brings me so much joy. I look forward to seeing your gorgeous faces soon, and to continue to share my love through music."

A press release announcing Bradley's death said: "Bradley passed away in Brooklyn on September 23, 2017, surrounded by family and friends including members of the bands he worked closely with: Menahan Street Band, His Extraordinaires, Budos Band and the Jimmy Hill Allstarz--his band from his time performing as Black Velvet."

In lieu of flowers, donations are to be made to All-Stars Project and Music Unites.

Below is the 2016 video for Changes track "Good to Be Back Home." The black & white clip mixes footage of Bradley in and around his Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn home with shots of him performing. Following that are other videos by him.

Read our 2016 interview with Bradley about Changes.

 

 

 

 

 

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