Charles Bradley, Acclaimed Soul Singer, Dead at 68


Charles Bradley, the acclaimed soul singer and live dynamo who saw his career ascend late in life, has died following a long bout with cancer. He was 68.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Charles Bradley,” the singer’s rep said in a statement. “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.”

Bradley’s reps added, “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.”

“RIP to our dear brother Charles Bradley,” veteran Afrobeat group Antibalas wrote on Twitter. “Your heart was too big for this planet. See you on the other side. We love you.”

Over the course of three albums – 2011’s No Time for Dreaming, 2013’s Victim of Love and 2016’s Changes – Bradley blended heartfelt ballads of love, longing and remorse with raucous tracks celebrating joy and the survival of a hardscrabble life. 

A homeless drifter as a teen who battled with illiteracy, poverty and chronic unemployment, the Brooklyn-born singer would later nearly die from a penicillin allergy and find his brother murdered by Bradley’s own nephew.

In 1962, at the age of 23, Bradley’s sister took him to James Brown’s landmark performance at the Apollo Theater. The show transformed Bradley, who would later find regional success in New York as a James Brown impersonator named Black Velvet.

“It was breathtaking,” Bradley told Rolling Stone in 2016. “I didn’t know who James Brown really was but I wanted to go see. When they called James Brown onstage, I’ll never forget they had this purple light and yellow light – my two favorite colors. And when they introduced him, he came flying on the stage on one leg and I said, ‘What in the hell is this?’ [Laughs] And I was mesmerized. I was just gone. I was just shocked. Shocked. I said, ‘Wow. I wanna be something like that.'”

The fledgling impersonator went home, attached string to a broom to emulate Brown’s bombastic mic swings, and began impersonating the singer in private.

The itinerant began traveling across the country in 1977 after spending 10 years as a cook at a Maine hospital for the mentally ill, ending up in California. After getting laid off from his job after 17 years, Bradley moved back to Brooklyn in the mid-1990s to live with and take care of his mother, Inez.

Earlier this month, Bradley told fans after canceling his fall tour,  “I love all of you out there that made my dreams come true. When I come back, I’ll come back strong, with God’s love. With God’s will, I’ll be back soon.”

“Right now, I don’t see a stopping point ’cause I don’t see no place where I can stop at and rest in peace,” he told Rolling Stone last year. “But I know that from doing shows for the public, the love when I go out into the audience and hug ’em and the things that they say to me personally … [pauses] Wow. It’s not only me onstage doing it. I open their hearts up and they feel the love of my heart and when I go out there and really respond to ’em and talk to ’em, they tell me some things.”

This story is developing…

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