Dammit, Charles Bradley Has Died

Surrounded by family and friends – including members of His Extraordinaires, the Menahan Street Band and other musicians he worked closely with – Charles Bradley, the hard-working, hard-fighting soul man, passed away in Brooklyn on September 23rd.

Bradley, 68, was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the fall of 2016. After undergoing treatment, he emerged with a clean bill of health and went back home (i.e., the road). But the cancer returned this year, spreading to his liver, sidelining him again.

Born in Gainesville, Florida, where he was raised with his paternal grandmother, Bradley’s life was transformed in 1962 when his sister took him to see James Brown perform at the Apollo Theater in New York City. Tremendously inspired (who wouldn’t be?), Bradley began to practice the Godfather of Soul’s singing style and stage act at home as a teenager, later working regularly as a James Brown impersonator in various New York clubs.

Discovered at one of those performances by Gabriel Roth, co-founder of Daptone Records, Bradley was soon swept into widespread attention via Daptone’s soul revival wave of the early 2000s. In 2011, when Bradley was 62, Daptone released his debut album, No Time For Dreaming.

Bradley lived through many hard times during his life, the details of which can be learned if you care to do a little digging. But it was clear to anyone lucky enough to see him perform that true happiness came to this man onstage, and that, were it not for fate or destiny, what could’ve been autumn years spent in lonely obscurity were instead filled with recognition, respect and adulation. The last time I saw him was in March 2016 at the Variety Playhouse, a couple of weeks before the release of his wonderful third album, Changes (the title track was a cover of the Sabbath song!) He was (to appropriate the name of his backing band) extraordinary. I mean, sure, he could channel James Brown to a T – it was no mystery who had the biggest influence on his look, sound and mannerisms. But his material, written by or with so many of those Daptone/Budos Band/Menahan Band New York retro-soul cats, stood on its own, loud and proud. Bradley was derivative, but it was in a natural, celebratory way, and his passion and talent were a formidable wonder to behold. We should be thankful that we had a chance to bear witness to it during his brief but fruitful time illuminated under international spotlights.

Photo by Chris Edwards.