Charles Bradley, the soul singer whose late-career renaissance turned him into an icon, has died. He was 68. Bradley had been diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2016. He recently cancelled another string of tour dates after the disease spread to his liver.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Charles Bradley,” the singer’s representative wrote in a statement. “Always a fighter, Charles battled cancer with everything he had[…] 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.”
Bradley’s brief but brilliant music career only started in at the age of 62. On the three albums that he released—2011’s No Time for Dreaming, 2013’s Victim of Love, and 2016’s Changes—Bradley reinvigorated the well-worn tropes of soul and R&B. On singles like “The World (Is Going Up In Flames)” and “Strictly Reserved for You,” Bradley showcased effortless, dextrous, voice, as absorbing when he was cooing through ballads as when he was shrieking at the top of funk crescendoes.
It was difficult to divorce the richness of Bradley’s voice from the nomadic and often difficult life that he lived before being signed to the legendary Daptone Records in his 60s. Born in Gainsville, Florida but raised in Brooklyn from the age of eight, Bradley was homeless for much of his adult life, working menial jobs where he could, and working on and off as a James Brown impersonator.
Bradley’s unlikely rise from obscurity started with the release of his debut album in 2011.Recorded with the Menahan Street Band—featuring members of Antibalas, El Michels Affair, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and the Budos Band—No Time for Dreaming garnered immediate critical acclaim. Coupled with Bradley’s captivating live show, which showcased a unique charisma, Bradley swiftly became one of the brightest jewels in Daptone’s crown.
Victim of Love was released two years later and Bradley, then 64, hadn’t relented. If anything, he was more confident. Even more comfortable alongside his band, he expanded his range, finding even slower grooves to work over. His third album, Changes, was released in 2016, built around a stunning cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes”—an unlikely work of poignant soul that few besides Bradley, if any, could have mastered.
“People are all over the world living in their own identity,” Bradley told Noisey in 2014. “And it’s scary; it’s very, very scary. Now I don’t know where I belong, but I know I’m home. It’s scary, but trust in your gut feeling and in your heart. Just know there’s something real inside you, and hold onto your dignity. When you see something you know is wrong, don’t do away with it. I don’t care what it is.”
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