Charles Bradley :: Biography

Charles Bradley was born on November 5, 1948, in Gainesville, Florida. Bradley was raised by his maternal grandmother 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 because of his poor living conditions -- his bedroom was in a basement with a sand floor. He 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 where he trained as a chef. Once while working, a co-worker told him he looked like James Brown. When he was asked if he could sing, he was at first shy but eventually 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. After his band mates were drafted into the Vietnam War, the act ended.

Bradley worked in Maine as a cook for ten years until heading west, by hitchhiking across the country. He lived in upstate New York, Seattle, Washington, Canada and Alaska before settling in California in 1977. There, Bradley worked odd jobs and played small shows for 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 his mother's house.

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.

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 humble 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 went on to play prominent festivals around the world, and the story and legacy of Bradley continued.

Bradley's second album, Victim of Love came out on April 2, 2013. Bradley's most recent album, Changes (released on April 1, 2016), featured a cover of the Black Sabbath song, "Changes."

Bradley's songs have frequently been sampled by hip hop artists, such as Jay-Z and Asher Roth. Bradley provided the singing voice of the Krampus in the American Dad! episode, "Minstrel Krampus."

Bradley performed live 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 TVs series "Spotless" on Netflix.

Charles Bradley passed away September 23, 2017.


2011: No Time for Dreaming (Daptone Records)
2013: Victim of Love (Daptone Records)
2016: Changes (Daptone Records)