Celebrated soul singer Charles Bradley, a late bloomer who tasted success at the age of 62, died aged 68 surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues according to the singer’s rep.
Bradley was diagnosed with stomach cancer in October last year and it appeared that he had, after all, conquered the demon when he was given a clean bill of health earlier this year, only to discover later that the cancer had returned with a vengeance, spreading to his liver this time around.
“I love all of you out there that made my dreams come true,” he said in a September 6 Facebook post after the relapse. “When I come back, I’ll come back strong, with God’s love. With God’s will, I’ll be back soon.”
Sadly, it was not to be!
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Charles Bradley,” said the singer’s rep in a statement on social media.
“Always a fighter, Charles battled cancer with everything he had. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the fall of 2016 and underwent treatment. Bradley headed out on the road earlier this year after receiving a clean bill of health but the cancer recently returned, spreading to his liver.”
“Thank you for your prayers during this difficult time. 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,” the statement further said.
Tributes and condolences started pouring in thick and fast from the music fraternity following the announcement.
“The world lost a ton of heart today,” lamented Gabriel Roth, co-founder of Bradley’s label Daptone Records. “Charles was somehow one of the meekest and strongest people I’ve ever known. His pain was a cry for universal love and humanity. His soulful moans and screams will echo forever on records and in the ears and hearts of those who were fortunate enough to share time with him.
“I find some solace knowing that he will continue to inspire love and music in this world for generations to come,” he added. “I told him as much a few days ago. He smiled and told me, ‘I tried.’ It was probably the simplest and most inspiring thing he ever told me. I think he wanted to hug each person on this planet individually. I mean that literally, and anyone that ever saw him knows that he honestly tried.”
I’ve had the honor of being completely and utterly blown off stage by both of these sweethearts. RIP Charles Bradley.❤️We miss you, Sharon! pic.twitter.com/QUdCugUw3R
— Neko Case (@NekoCase) September 23, 2017
Charles Bradley… a hero… an artist… a golden light in music that spread love and inspiration. thank you for your music and your love
— SWMRS (@swmrs) September 23, 2017
— Antibalas (@Antibalas) September 23, 2017
Goodnight, Charles Bradley. You sang from beyond and gave the best hugs. pic.twitter.com/nrNpc6LtiP
— greg dulli (@MrGregDulli) September 23, 2017
Born in Gainesville, Florida, on November 5, 1948, Charles Edward Bradley had a difficult early life: abandoned by his mother when he was just 8 months old; raised by his maternal grandmother until the age of eight; taken back by his mother to live with her in Brooklyn, New York; forced to run away from home, because of pathetic living conditions, at the age of 14 to live the life of a drifter for the next two years.
Bradley had a flair for music from early life. When he saw James Brown perform at the Apollo Theater in 1962, he was so impressed that he started mimicking Brown’s singing style and stage mannerisms.
He, subsequently, enlisted in the Jobs Corp and trained as a chef in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he later found employment as a chef in a hospital for the mentally ill. He worked there for the next ten years until he lost interest and became an itinerant, traveling across the country and even the border into Canada before ending up in California.
He continued to live and work in California for the next 20 years doing odd jobs and performing in small shows, every now and then, without really finding any success.
Bradley reunited with his mother in 1996 relocating to Brooklyn where he started doing James Brown impersonations in local clubs calling himself “Black Velvet.” However, Bradley’s troubles were far from over as he nearly died of an allergic reaction to penicillin.
“I was sick as a dog,” he said in Soul of America. “I was close to death. I’m allergic to penicillin and they were feeding me penicillin and my body had shut down.”
His near-death experience was followed by yet another tragedy when his older brother Joseph was robbed and murdered by Bradley’s nephew.
Soon after his recovery from the allergic reaction he had been advised by his now departed brother to “do something that you want to do. Follow your dreams. You love music. Do it.” With that at the back of his head, Bradley continued eking out a living doing his James Brown gigs in New York clubs.
Gabriel Roth, co-founder of Daptone Records, introduced him to Tom Brenneck after seeing one of his “Black Velvet” performances. Brenneck, who would later go on to produce all three of Bradley’s albums, paid tribute to the departed singer saying, “I’ll carry that man in my heart for the rest of my life.”
As mentioned earlier, real success in music came rather late for Bradley starting with the release of his first album “No Time for Dreaming” with the Menahan Street Band.
“I been struggling for over 42 years trying to make it in the industry,” he said in Soul of America. “And at the age of 62, I’m just beginning to find my way through. I never made enough money to support myself in music, but I’m hoping that this album will make a turning point for me … I ask myself why it took so long, but you can’t question God when he wants to do things.” This was Bradley’s philosophical approach to success which had eluded him until then.
His next album “Victim of Love” was made public in 2013 which earned universal critical acclaim enhancing Bradley’s image and status as a soul star.
He released his third and final album “Changes” in April last year about six months before he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
“The screaming eagle of soul” finally left for his heavenly abode on Saturday, September 23, 2017.
RIP Charles Edward Bradley!