Through his music, Charles Brown brought about an evolution that changed the American music world. When his soft-toned soulful blues music was introduced during the 1940s, little did he know that it would create a new genre to the otherwise existing rock and roll era. What he began as a pianist in a trio band graduated to numerous chart-hitting individual trio and solo albums under various labels. His liking towards music started during childhood which culminated in the youth, after taking up and quitting different jobs. Although the blues-style music, combined with light rhythmic piano and smooth vocals, saw recognition during its initial launch years, but Charles Brown infused his own individual touch through his mournful voice, with hints of polished and sophisticated tones often known as ‘nightclub blues’ or ‘cocktail blues’. Apart from his regular R&B singles hitting the music charts, his seasonal-themed songs also brought him fame and glory in the West Coast, despite being a Texas resident. His style played an influential role in South California, with his disciples and future performers, like Cecil Gant, Amos Milburn, Percy Mayfield, Ray Charles, and Floyd Dixon adopting his techniques. Such was his jazz-inflected sound that it made for a perfect background for late-night joints.
Childhood & Early Life
Tony Russell Brown, or Charles Brown, was born on September 13, 1922 in Texas City, Texas, and completed his schooling from Central High School of Galveston, in 1939.
He attended Prairie View A&M College and obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1942.
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After graduating, he joined George Washington Carver High School of Baytown as a chemistry teacher.
After a short while, he shifted to working as a mustard gas worker at Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas, followed by an apprentice electrician in a Richmond shipyard in California.
In 1943, he left his job and moved to Los Angeles to make a career in music, an interest he developed during childhood.
He joined the ‘Three Blazers’ band comprising guitarist Johnny Moore and bassist Eddie Williams, as a vocalist and pianist.
The trio came into limelight when the Nat King Cole’s trio left to concentrate on national level and the Three Blazers began their blues-club style performances.
The trio started recording a number of labels, but became popular with Driftin’ Blues, in 1945.
After delivering various R&B singles for the next two years, Brown left the Three Blazers in 1948 to form his own trio, Charles Brown Trio.
While working for Eddie Mesner’s Aladdin Records, he recorded Trouble Blues, Black Night, Get Yourself Another Fool, and Hard Times – all chart toppers during the early 1950s.
Even though his mellow blues voice failed to keep up with the growing rock and roll rhythms during the 1950s, he continued to record singles with various labels, like Aladdin, Jewel, King, and Imperial.
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During the 1960s and 1970s, his occasional recording could not sustain his position at the national level and soon faded with time, except his 1960 hit Please Come Home for Christmas.
His career took another shot in the late 1980s when he recorded One More for the Road for Blue Side Records, which shut down after sometime and was hence, re-released and distributed by Alligator Records.
His career graph started rising again with Bonnie Raitt including him on her tour and re-introducing him and the blues magic to the new generation.
He began recording hit albums for different labels, starting with the classic All My Life for Bullseye Blues in 1990.
His stage performances, under guitarist Danny Caron, gained more popularity than those during his early years. Tenor saxophonist Clifford Solomon, bassist Ruth Davies and drummer Gaylord Birch were some among his touring band.
He has been a part of the PBS documentary That Rhythm…Those Blues, along with Ruth Brown.
He became a known blues singer with Driftin’ Blues for Philo Records, which remained on the Billboard’s R&B charts for 23 weeks, reaching number two as the peak position.
The Three Blazers delivered a series of R&B singles from 1946 to 1948, some of them being New Orleans Blues, Sunny Road, So Long, and More Than You Know.
His Christmas classics – Merry Christmas Baby and Please Come Home to Christmas grew popular every season, with the latter selling one million copies till 1968 and remaining on the charts for the next ten years.
Awards & Achievements
He has received a number of nominations at the Grammy Awards for his records.
In 1991, he was awarded the W.C. Handy Blues Award (now Blues Music Awards).
He was honored with the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts’ at a ceremony held at the White House, in 1997.
In 1999, he was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, after his death.
Personal Life & Legacy
He suffered a congestive heart failure and passed away on January 21, 1999, aged 76, in Oakland, California. He was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.