January 21, 1999 – Tony Russell “Charles” Brown was born in Texas City on September 13, 1922. Brown demonstrated his love of music as a child and received a classical music training on the piano. He graduated from Central High School of Galveston, Texas in 1939 and Prairie View A&M College in 1942 with a degree in chemistry. He then became a chemistry teacher at George Washington Carver High School of Baytown, Texas, a mustard gas worker at the Pine Bluff Arsenal at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and an apprentice electrician at a shipyard in Richmond, California before settling in Los Angeles in 1943.
In Los Angeles, the great influx of blacks created an integrated nightclub scene in which black performers tended to minimize the rougher blues elements of their style. The blues club style of a light rhythm bass and right-hand tinkling of the piano and smooth vocals became popular, epitomized by the jazz piano of Nat King Cole. When Cole left Los Angeles to perform nationally, his place was taken by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, featuring Charles Brown’s gentle piano and vocals.
His style dominated the Southern California club scene during the 40s and 50s, he influenced such performers as Floyd Dixon, Cecil Gant, Ivory Joe Hunter, Ray Charles, Percy Mayfield and Johnny Ace. On February 1st 1946 “Driftin’ Blues,” by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, enters the R&B chart. Written and sung by Charles the song reached No.2 and remains on the R&B chart for half a year, a significant milestone of the early postwar blues, it also received ‘Cashbox’ magazine’s award for R&B record of the year. This was the first of a string of hits for the Three Blazers.
Charles had his first solo hit in January 1949 with “Get Yourself Another Fool,” it reaches No.4 on the R&B chart, quickly followed by “Trouble Blues” which topped the charts for 15 weeks. His 1951 hit “Black Night” topped the R&B charts for 14 weeks. Over a two-year period, Charles’ two biggest hits occupied the No.1 spot for a combined 29 weeks, a phenomenal feat.
His chart hit “Please Come Home for Christmas” in Dec 1960, has been covered by dozens of artists like many of his other songs.
He began a recording and performing career again, under the musical direction of guitarist Danny Caron, to greater success than he had achieved since the 1950s. Other members of Charles’ touring ensemble included Clifford Solomon on tenor saxophone, Ruth Davies on bass and Gaylord Birch on drums. Several records received Grammy Award nominations, and in the 1980s he made a series of appearances at New York City nightclub Tramps. As a result of these appearances he signed a new recording contract with Blue Side Records and recorded One More for the Road in three days. Blue Side Records closed soon after but distribution was picked up by Alligator Records. Soon after the success of One More for the Road, Bonnie Raitt helped usher in a Charles Brown comeback tour. His last studio album ‘So Goes Love’, was released in May 1998.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2 months after his death.
Brown died of congestive heart failure in 1999 in Oakland, California at age 76.