Charles Bradley, the highly acclaimed R&B singer who found success late in life, died Saturday (September 23) after a prolonged struggle with stomach cancer. Bradley was 68. In a statement issued to the press, Bradley’s representatives described the soul singer as “a fighter,” and went on to say, “Charles battled cancer with everything he had.”
Bradley had planned to tour earlier in the year following an initial clean bill of health, but was later forced to cancel the scheduled dates after it was discovered that the cancer had spread to his liver. Nevertheless, Bradley remained optimistic that he would eventually be able to resume touring. In an open letter to his fans, he shared his gratitude for their support. “I love all of you out there that made my dreams come true,” he wrote. “When I come back, I’ll come back strong, with God’s love. With God’s will, I’ll be back soon.”
Dubbed “the Screaming Eagle of Soul” for his frenzied performances, Bradley found success relatively late in life. Born in Gainesville, Florida in 1948, he spent his formative years travelling across the country after running away from home. His wanderings led him to Maine, where he found steady work as a cook. However, after saving up enough money to purchase a house, he was suddenly let go and forced to return to Brooklyn, the place he had originally called home.
Indeed, Bradley was no stranger to struggle. Wrestling with poverty and homelessness from an early age on, he turned his attention to making music after witnessing a performance by James Brown. Inspired by Brown’s stagecraft and charisma, he became obsessed with a desire to create a sound that could be equally as stirring, while hoping to find an outlet that could marry his passion and purpose in a way that would prove equally as evocative.
Bradley began his pursuit of a musical career in earnest by covering James Brown songs in nightclubs for only modest wages. However, his performances soon caught the attention of Gabriel Roth, the co-founder of the independent label, Daptone Records. Roth wasted little time in pairing Bradley with Tom Brenneck, another burgeoning musician he had signed to his label.
“I was just like, ‘Oh my God, this guy is feeling it,” Brenneck remarked after witnessing one Bradley’s performances.
Bradley’s belated recognition led to his debut album, No Time for Dreaming, finding release a mere six years ago. Even so, the album reaped instant acclaim. It was tapped as one of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 50 albums of 2011, giving him his first taste of widespread recognition.
Two other albums followed - Victim of Love in 2013 and Changes, released last year. However, it was his live performances that captured fans’ attention. His onstage exhilaration, coupled with his evocative lyrics, earned him continuing kudos as well as comparisons to such soul legends as James Brown and Otis Redding.
Bradley would go on to collect further critical accolades, thanks in part to a series of notable television performances, including The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Conan and CBS This Morning, the latter of which earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding On-Camera Musical Performance In A Daytime Program.”
Sadly, Bradley’s bout with cancer put a premature end to a promising career. He passed away in Brooklyn surrounded by friends and family. In a statement on social media, Bradley’s representatives expressed gratitude for the love and support shown by his fans, remarking, “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.”