When 64-year-old soul singer Charles Bradley talks about releasing his debut record in 2011, he hearkens back to a conversation with his mother. "My mother always told me, 'Son, Do you believe in Moses?' And I said 'Yes I do.' 'Moses was an old man before he found who he truly was.' And now that's where my story is coming from."
At age 13, Bradley's sister took him to see James Brown at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. His life's dream was changed forever. "[As a child,] what I really loved was oil painting. I always thought that was what I was going to end up doing, but then I saw James Brown, and he turned my whole thing around."
But the turnaround took a long time. As a young teen, Bradley ran away from home. He lived on the streets and in subway cars for two years. His first band broke up when his bandmates were drafted into the Vietnam War. Bradley eventually moved out West, hitchhiking across the country to live and work in Seattle, Canada, Alaska, and California, working odd jobs as a carpenter, plumber, and cook for over 20 years while beginning to play small club shows at night.
In 1996, more than 30 years after his encounter with Brown, his mother called him back to Brooklyn, where he began moonlighting as a James Brown impersonator known as "Black Velvet." It was also in Brooklyn that he witnessed the biggest tragedy of his life, waking up in the middle of the night to find his brother fatally shot in the head. "I was the last person to talk to my brother and hold my brother. That is the most hurting thing you can ever deal with."
In 2003, Bradley was discovered by the soul-reviving producer Gabriel Roth, who has engineered records ...