Musicheads Essential Artist: Charles Bradley

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Charles Bradley 14
Charles Bradley at The Current in 2016. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
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Charles Bradley, a powerfully emotive singer and songwriter also known as "the Screaming Eagle of Soul," is a Musicheads Essential Artist.

Charles Bradley was born in Gainesville, Florida in 1948. He later moved to New York, where his life was changed when his sister took him to see James Brown at the Apollo Theater. Bradley launched a career in music, but the Vietnam draft broke up his band and the singer ended up spending decades living all over the country, working as a cook and playing James Brown tribute shows.

In the early 2000s he was performing one of those tribute shows under the name Black Velvet when a friend encouraged him to reach out to Gabriel Roth of Daptone Records. Impressed, Roth brought Bradley in to the studio where he started working with artist and producer Tom Brenneck. In 2002, Daptone released Bradley's first single, "Take It As It Come."

Yet another decade would pass before the singer finally broke through to a national audience. His debut album No Time for Dreaming came out in 2011, and the 2012 documentary film Charles Bradley: Soul of America showcased his remarkable underdog story. Music festivals around the world scrambled to book Bradley, and the rest is history.

Tragically, Bradley only had a handful of years left to live: he would die of stomach cancer in 2017. He made the most of that half-decade span, though, wowing audiences and keeping busy in the studio between tours. His third album, from 2016, took its title from his cover of Black Sabbath's "Changes."

A leading light of the soul revival alongside his labelmate Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley visited The Current studio three times. On his last visit, in 2016, he shared his view that "music is the root of life."

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