September 23, 2017 – Charles Bradley was born on November 5, 1948 in Gainesville, Florida
Bradley was raised by his maternal grandmother in Gainesville, Florida until the age of eight when his mother, who had abandoned him at eight months of age, took him to live with her in Brooklyn, New York.
In 1962, his sister took him to the Apollo Theater to see James Brown perform. Bradley was so inspired by the performance that he began to practice mimicking Brown’s style of singing and stage mannerisms at home.
When he was fourteen, Bradley ran away from home to escape poor living conditions—his bedroom was in a basement with a sand floor—and lived on the streets during the day and slept nights in subway cars for two years. Later, he enlisted in Job Corps which eventually led him to Bar Harbor, Maine to train as a chef. A co-worker told him he looked like James Brown and asked if he could sing; he was at first shy but then admitted that he could. He overcame his stage fright (when a crew member pushed him through the curtains onto the stage) and performed five or six times with a band. His bandmates were later drafted into the Vietnam War, and the act never re-formed.
Bradley worked in Maine as a cook for ten years, and then decided to head west, hitchhiking across the country. He lived in upstate New York, Seattle, Canada and Alaska before settling in California in 1977. There, Bradley worked odd jobs and played small shows for almost 20 years.
In 1996, Bradley’s mother called him and asked him to move back in with her in Brooklyn so she could get to know him. It was there he began making a living moonlighting as a James Brown impersonator in local clubs under the name “Black Velvet.” During this time, Bradley experienced more difficulties, including almost dying in a hospital after having an allergic reaction to penicillin, and, in a separate episode, awaking at his mother’s house to a commotion as police and ambulances were arriving to the scene of his brother’s murder, just down the road from there.
While performing as “Black Velvet,” he was eventually discovered by Gabriel Roth (better known as “Bosco Mann”), a co-founder of Daptone Records. Roth introduced Bradley to Daptone artist and his future producer Tom Brenneck, then the songwriter and guitarist for The Bullets, and later for Menahan Street Band, who invited Bradley to his band’s rehearsal. Bradley asked that the band simply perform while he made up lyrics on the spot. After writing several songs, Daptone released some of these initial recordings on vinyl starting in 2002.
Brenneck and Bradley chose ten of these recordings to be released as Bradley’s debut album No Time for Dreaming in 2011. Rolling Stone magazine named the debut as one of the top 50 albums of 2011.
In the spring of 2012, Soul of America, a documentary directed by Poull Brien, debuted at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Poull Brien first met Bradley when he directed the music video for “The World (Is Going Up In Flames).” This feature film told Bradley’s story from his childhood in Florida, to the days of homelessness and heartache, then later his gigs as Black Velvet, and finally ended with him touring and recording at Daptone Records. The film included his performance at festivals around the world.
In 2014 Bradley took part in the Hamilton, Ontario Supercrawl event.
Bradley’s second album, Victim of Love came out on April 2, 2013. Bradley’s final album, Changes (released on April 1, 2016), featured a cover of the Black Sabbath song, “Changes.” In August 2016 he fell ill and canceled a Canadian tour and his appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival July 30 (UK), where Darlingside filled in for him.
Charles Bradley was diagnosed with stomach cancer in October 2016. He died on September 23, 2017, at the age of 68.
Bradley’s songs have frequently been sampled by hip hop artists. Bradley provided the singing voice of the Krampus in the American Dad! episode, “Minstrel Krampus”. A live Bradley performance appears in the Amazon television show Alpha House (season 1, episode 6 in 2013). The song “The World (Is Going Up In Flames)” was featured in the TV series Spotless, as well as the final installment of the CW’s 2016 Arrowverse crossover, Legends of Tomorrow S2E7 ‘Invasion!’. The song “Dusty Blue” was featured in the 3rd Season and the song “Changes” was featured in the 6th season of the TV series Suits. He is featured performing “Ain’t It A Sin” in the third episode of the Netflix Marvel series Luke Cage. The song “Where Do We Go From Here” appears in the 4th season of the Showtime series Ray Donovan.