Charles Bradley, a soul singer who blossomed late in life, releasing his first album at the age of 62, died Saturday after a battle with cancer. He was 68.
Like his late label mate Sharon Jones – who died last year after a protracted battle with cancer – Florida-born, Brooklyn-reared Bradley was an old-school journeyman R&B performer who was launched to fame via a series of independent releases on Brooklyn’s Daptone Records. Active from the ‘90s under the moniker “Black Velvet” as a James Brown impersonator, Bradley drew the attention of Daptone co-founder, bandleader and producer Gabriel Roth (aka Bosco Mann), who began releasing singles by the singer in 2002. Beginning with “No Time For Dreaming” in 2011 and continuing with “Soul of America” in 2012 and “Changes” in 2016, Bradley’s Daptone recordings flexed a high-voltage style that harkened back to the ‘60s work of such deep-soul stars as Brown and Otis Redding. Bradley’s career and life, which included a period of homelessness, was considered in Poull Brien’s 2012 documentary “Soul of America.”
He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2016 and underwent treatment, receiving a clean bill of health and releasing his third album, “Changes,” later that year. He went out on tour earlier this year and performed on several television shows — including “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “Conan” and “CBS This Morning: Saturday” — a performance that led to an Emmy nomination for Outstanding On-Camera Musical Performance in a Daytime Program.
However, the cancer recently returned, spreading to his liver, and he cancelled tour dates earlier this month. “I love all of you out there that made my dreams come true,” he said when announcing the cancellations. “When I come back, I’ll come back strong, with God’s love. With God’s will, I’ll be back soon.”
Bradley was born Nov. 5, 1948 in Gainesville, FL, and moved to Brooklyn at the age of 8. He lived all over the country before before returning to New York 20 years ago. According to a press release, Bradley passed away in Brooklyn Saturday, surrounded by family and friends including members of the bands he worked closely with: Menahan Street Band, His Extraordinaires, Budos Band and the Jimmy HillAllstarz, his band from his time performing as Black Velvet.
The press release announcing his passing concludes: “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.”