Charles Bradley 1948-2017 R.I.P.

The Screaming Eagle of Soul brought soul and funk to a new contemporary level and introduced it to an entire new generation. Photo above by Susan Moll. Below photos by John Boydston.

By Fred Mills

Last October, soul singer extraordinaire Charles Bradley saddened the music world with the news of a recent cancer diagnosis, writing at Facebook in a statement,   “In the past few months, I have had to cancel a number of shows due to illness, taking me away from my beautiful fans. My doctors recently discovered a cancerous tumor in my stomach. I’m getting the best medical care and we are all extremely optimistic. I will fight through this like I’ve fought through the many other obstacles in my life.”

Sadly, earlier this month Bradley was forced to cancel yet more tour dates, and last night we learned that he finally succumbed to the cancer yesterday (Sept. 23). He was 68. The BBC reports that his publicist issued a statement that read, “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.” An outpouring of condolences and grief quickly followed the announcement, from fans and peers alike: producer Mark Ronson tweeted, “So sad that Charles Bradley has left us, what a voice & spirit. My heart goes out to his family-both blood & musical https://t.co/vQ0Pyq8Xes” while Daptone labelmates Antibalas offered, “RIP to our dear brother Charles Bradley. Your heart was too big for this planet. See you on the other side. We love you.”

To those sentiments, we here at BLURT wish to add our own farewell. I’ll never forget seeing Bradley steal the show in Austin during SXSW 2013. Onstage at the Moody Theatre during the Daptone Soul Revue, he was an “explosive, spins-and-knee-drops reincarnation of James Brown (he capped the set by crawling into the crowd in front of the stage and giving out hugs to everyone in the vicinity).” More recently, our man in Atlanta, photographer John Boydston, had this to say about Bradley’s performance in March of 2016,

“Man, can this guy let out a soul scream…. My appreciation for the soul greats was second-hand until way too late in life, meaning I mostly grew up listening to white rocker-crooners paying tribute.  Meh. My bad.  I’ve been making up for lost time of late, devouring all the Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and James Brown records I can find.  So along comes Charles Bradley, and suddenly it’s not a nostalgia thing anymore.  He is the real deal soul man like the greats who came before.  He is also a great; not a revivalist or a retro act paying tribute. He’s Charles Bradley, and he’s bringing his world to new audiences.” (Follow the above link to view Boydston’s photo gallery from the show.)

Aside from the incendiary, sweat-drenched performances and near-brilliant recordings (such as on 2013’s Victim Of Love and 2016’s Changes), perhaps what I’ll remember most about Bradley was that closing-show ritual of wading into the crowd and hugging ecstatic fans. This wasn’t meet-and-greet handshakes, autographs and selfies at the merch table—this was literally demolishing the artist-fan, stage-audience barrier, a visual and deeply emotional expression of gratitude on his part for the love and enthusiasm those fans were giving him. Talk about a positive feedback loop. (The last video below will give you a sense of that scene.)

You can read about Bradley and his late-in-life success that was so inspiring elsewhere (such as at his Wikipedia page). Meanwhile, check out some choice videos below, and also, go check out “The Spotify Sessions” over at Spotify – it’s another SXSW performance, this one from 2016 – as well as that year’s NPR showcase performance, available for free download at the Big O Zine, where they also have smokin’ sets from 2012 and 2013.

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