Soul singer Charles Bradley dead of cancer at 68

By Eric DuVall  |  Updated Sept. 23, 2017 at 6:51 PM
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Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Soul singer Charles Bradley, who rose to prominence late in life after spending years as a journeyman cover band singer, died Saturday of cancer, his record label said. He was 68.

Bradley began touring in the 1990s in small clubs as a James Brown impersonator under the stage name Black Velvet, belting out the late Godfather of Soul's famous hits. Bradley was first discovered by the cofounder of Daptones Records, Gabriel Roth, aka Bosco Mann, whose label specializes in re-envisioned soul, blues and R&B acts.

Bradley's death is the second blow to the Daptones lineup this year, after vocalist Sharon Jones of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, also died of cancer.

Bradley began releasing singles under Daptones in 2002. His powerful vocals harkened back to the golden era of soul in the 1960s and 70s, with inflections of Brown and Otis Redding. Bradley put out his first full-length album No Time for Dreaming in 2011 at the age of 62. He would go on to release two more studio albums, the most recent being Changes in 2016. His performance of a track from that album on CBS This Morning earned Bradley an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Live Performance on a Daytime Program.

Just prior to releasing Changes, Bradley was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He underwent treatment and was declared cancer-free months later, only to see the cancer return within a year. Bradley canceled a 2017 tour, but promised fans he would be back "with God's will." After the cancer spread to his liver, Bradley was never able to return to the stage.

Bradley was born in Gainsville, Fla., on Nov. 5, 1948, but moved to Brooklyn at age 8 and spent the rest of his childhood and long portions of his life there. After moving around the country and enduring stints of homelessness, Bradley returned to New York in the 90s, where his music career began to flourish. His club performances became an underground sensation, gaining the attention of Roth and leading to a record deal with Daptones.

"The world lost a ton of heart today," Roth said. "Charles was somehow one of the meekest and strongest people I've ever known. His pain was a cry for universal love and humanity. His soulful moans and screams will echo forever on records and in the ears and hearts of those who were fortunate enough to share time with him."

Bradley's representatives released a statement saying he died Saturday at his Brooklyn home surrounded by family and many of the musicians he'd worked with over his career.

"Thank you for your prayers during this difficult time," the statement concluded. "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."

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