Singer Charles Bradley, the “Screaming Eagle of Soul” whose career took off in the 2000s after years spent on the periphery of the music industry (including time spent as a James Brown impersonator), has died at age 68 of cancer.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Charles Bradley. 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,” read a statement on Bradley’s Facebook page. “Thank you for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”
Bradley was diagnosed with stomach cancer during the fall of 2016 and though he headed out on tour earlier this year, the cancer recently returned and spread to his liver, according to a press release announcing the singer’s death.
Bradley’s death was also announced on his official Twitter page: “It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Charles Bradley. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”
Born in Florida in 1948 before later relocating to New York as a child, Bradley stayed on the fringes of music — working as a part-time musician throughout most of his life. In the 1990s, after moving back to New York to reconnect with his mother, Bradley began working in earnest as a James Brown impersonator (Bradley saw Brown perform at the Apollo Theater when he was a child). It during these years of his life when Bradley’s discovery began in earnest — after Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth introduced Bradley to producer Tom Brenneck.
“I’m gonna say it’s all right to dream, but work at it — make it come to reality,” Bradley said after releasing his debut studio album, No Time for Dreaming, in 2011. “It took 62 years for somebody to find me, but I thank God. Some people never get found.” (In 2012, Bradley’s life was the subject of a documentary, Charles Bradley: Soul of America.)
Two other records would follow: 2013’s Victim of Love and 2016’s Changes, the latter of which included a soul cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” as its showcase song. That track and many other Bradley tunes have become popular choices for television music supervisors: “Changes” appeared on the Big Little Lies soundtrack as well as episodes of Vampire Diaries, Marvel’s Luke Cage, and Suits.
As news of Bradley’s death spread online, many members of the music community and fans paid their respects to his memory.
Speaking to Rolling Stone last year, Bradley said he couldn’t envision a future that didn’t involve some level of performance. “I know that from doing shows for the public, the love when I go out into the audience and hug ’em and the things that they say to me personally … [pauses] Wow. It’s not only me onstage doing it. I open their hearts up and they feel the love of my heart and when I go out there and really respond to ’em and talk to ’em, they tell me some things,” he said.