Charles Bradley’s latest album is “Victim of Love.” Video edited by Joshua Barajas.
If you go to a Charles Bradley concert, prepare to get hugged … by Charles Bradley. He does it every time. After the show — after the screaming and the sweat — he steps down from the stage, arms outstretched, and embraces the audience one by one. I got a hug. Our video editor Josh got one, too.
“When I go on stage and I see the audience, see the way they love me, the way they give me love, it’s a love that you carry inside you,” the 64-year-old soul singer said before a recent performance in Annapolis, Md. “It makes you want to open every bit of love you carry inside you. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
Bradley’s story is far from beautiful. His mother was absent for most of his upbringing. He left home at 14 and spent time living on the street and in subway trains in New York. It was then that he found Job Corps, the vocational training program created in 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and earned work as a cook. It was also around this time that he got to see James Brown perform.
“When I got a chance, when I was 14, to go see James Brown … that just enhanced my singing,” he said. “And when I went to Job Corps, I finally met my first band. I could sing. They wanted me to sing. But I was a little nervous being around a big crowd. But once you get that mic in your hand, it gets in your spirit, you just break loose.”
A soul singer was born.
But it took nearly a half-century before the masses would get to hear his music. Bradley was in his 50s when the co-founder of Daptone Records “discovered” him in a Brooklyn nightclub performing as a James Brown act called Black Velvet. By age 62, Daptone released his first album, “No Time for Dreaming,” to critical acclaim. It made Rolling Stones’ 50 Best Albums of 2011, ranking him alongside smash hit artists like Adele and Frank Ocean.
But success only seems to make him more humble. Bradley’s painful past, which includes the shooting death of his brother in 2000, can be heard in his songs, notably 2011’s “Heartache and Pain.”
“My songs come from a lot of my deep emotion, from the trials and tribulations that I’ve been through,” he said. “Every lyric got a picture behind it. That’s why sometimes it gets very emotional for me.”
He’s recently released his second album, “Victim of Love,” and has embarked on his first world tour. Now the world will get to hear the Screaming Eagle of Soul. They’ll get to see his moves — he’s been dancing since he was 4 years old. They’ll get to witness his spirit; his performance is coated in his faith — at one point in the show he screams, “Can I go to church!” And they’ll get their hugs. Bradley so much as promises it.
“My goal now’s really getting out into the music industry, getting to people’s eyes so they’re really seeing me,” he said. “I see a lot of hurt in people’s faces, and I see a lot of joy. That’s why I like going out to the public, hugging them, letting them know that I see it.”