Childhood & Early Life
Charles Kent "Charlie" Wilson was born on January 29, 1953 in Tulsa, Oklahoma to Rev. Oscar Wilson, a minister in the Church of God. He has two siblings, Ronnie and Robert.
At the tender age of three, little Charlie started taking singing lessons. He often accompanied his brothers who sang in the church before their father’s sermons. It was his experience of singing in church that led him to join his junior high school choir team.
Following his elementary studies, Wilson attended Booker T. Washington High School. He later enrolled at Langston University where he went on to become a drum major in the Langston University Marching Pride.
Forbidden to listen to secular music at home, the Wilson brothers often smuggled music by the likes of Stevie Wonder and James brown and secretly practiced it.
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Charlie Wilson’s career started on an offbeat mode. What actually started as jam sessions held in neighbourhood garages resulted in the forming of a band, the Greenwood Archer and Pine Street Band in 1970 that had the Wilson brothers as its members. The band was eventually known by its acronym GAP (later Gap) Band.
Right from the beginning, along with his brothers, Charlie Wilson defined and popularized a different type of funk music that was infectious. It was when Wilson took over the role of the lead vocalist for the band in 1973 that its fortunes turned. It was spotted by the revolutionary country rock singer Leon Russell who roped in Gap as his backup ensemble.
In 1974, the Gap band released their little-known debut album ‘Magician’s Holiday’ under Russell’s Shelter label. Kicked out soon by Russell for their lacklustre performance, the band left for Los Angeles where they signed a record deal with Mercury Label.
Under Mercury, Gap reached great heights of success with Wilson’s vocals taking the centre stage. He was praised by the critics who often cited him as a younger version of Stevie Wonder and Wilson Pickett. The decade of 1980s was phenomenal for Gap as it notched several platinum albums and a couple of Number 1 R&B singles.
The band’s singles such as ‘Outstanding’, ‘Party Train’, ‘Yearning for Your Love’, ‘Burn Rubber on Me’, ‘You Dropped a Bomb on Me’, and ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ became some of the most sampled songs in music history. The Gap Band announced their retirement in 2010, after releasing 15 albums.
While his career as a founding member of the pivotal R&B/funk band had gained him much popularity, Wilson looked forward to embark on his solo career as well. It was a meeting with the CEO of P Music Group, Michael Paran that led him to tread on a solo career. Paran, who had rebranded the Gap Band in 1997, motivated Wilson to start his solo career.
Together with Paran, Wilson released his first solo album, ‘Bridging the Gap’ in 2000. Its lead single ‘Without You’ scored him his first No. 1 Billboard Urban Adult Contemporary hit. It successfully established Wilson’s solo career as a singer.
In 2004, Wilson signed a multi-album deal with Jive Records. The first album released after the deal was ‘Charlie, Last Name Wilson’ in 2005. The album, which was certified gold by the R.I.A.A., produced the hit single, ‘Charlie, Last Name Wilson’ that gained a spot in the Top 15 R&B.
In 2009, Wilson came up with his second album on Jive Records ‘Uncle Charlie’. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 200 and No. 1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Its phenomenal success can be judged from the fact that the album received two Grammy award nominations: Best R&B Album and Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male for ‘There Goes My Baby’ in 2010.
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His string of successful albums continued well into the 2010s as Wilson’s next album ‘Just Charlie’ (2010) zoomed to the top spot in the R&B charts. Its super hit single which became Wilson’s biggest hit to date, ‘You Are’, spent 13 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Urban Adult Contemporary chart and 15 weeks on Mediabase chart. Furthermore, the song scored two Grammy nods for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance.
Charlie Wilson’s career was on a roll as with the release of each single and album, his fame as an artist and a singer/musician multiplied by folds. Starting off from where he had left, he came up with his 2013 album, ‘Love, Charlie’ that did exceedingly well on the R&B chart just as his predecessor. Its hit single ‘My Love Is All I Have’, took the No. 1 position on the Billboard Urban Adult Contemporary chart.
His solo career apart, Wilson has also collaborated with numerous other singers. He has been a vocalist and contributor/collaborator on dozens of songs in the hip hop, rap, and R&B communities. He has worked with Snoop Dogg, Pharrell, Justin Timberlake and Jamie Foxx on various projects. His collaboration with Kanye West for the latter’s album resulted in the twice Grammy nominated song ‘Bound 2.’
In 2015, Wilson came up with his sixth solo album ‘Forever Charlie.’ Its lead single, ‘Goodnight Kisses’ brought in yet another top ten hit single for Wilson thus ringing up a grand total of 18 top ten hits so far on a tally that included eight No. 1s, including ‘My Love Is All I Have’, ‘You Are’, ‘There Goes My Baby’, ‘Charlie, Last Name Wilson’ and ‘Without You.’
While ‘Forever Charlie’ earned him a Grammy nomination for Best R&B album, its single ‘My Favorite Part of You’ gained a nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance.
Recorded singles and albums apart, Charlie Wilson has also gained fame for his explosive live shows that include his roof-raising performances. Labelled indefatigable, Wilson, on an average, performs about 50-60 concerts a year. This however does not include his performances in major urban festivals around the year including the Cincinnati Music Festival, Hampton Jazz, San Diego Music Festival, Las Vegas Music Festival and the Arizona Jazz Festival.
Music apart, he has made his presence felt in the literary industry as well. His memoir, ‘I Am Charlie Wilson’ released on June 30, 2015 became a New York Times Best Seller and Washington Post Best Seller. It even received an honorary mention for non-fiction from the Black Caucus of American Library Associations, Inc.
Awards & Achievements
Amongst Charlie Wilson’s most prominent accomplishments and achievements thus far, are his eleven Grammy award nominations in various categories. He also received six NAACP Image Award nominations in different categories, winning it once for Outstanding Album for ‘Love, Charlie.’
In 2013, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at BET Awards. The star studded performance featuring Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, Jamie Foxx and India Arie, remains one of the annual award show’s singular, top-rated moments in history. The same year, Wilson won yet another Lifetime Achievement award by Trumpet Awards Foundation.
Other awards won by him include the 2005 BMI Icon award. In 2009, Billboard magazine named Wilson No 1 Adult R&B Artist for the year. The same year, he received the Soul Train Icon Award as well. In 2011, Mediabase named Wilson No 1 Adult R&B Artist for the year.
Personal Life & Legacy
It was in the early 1990s that Charlie Wilson went deep into drug addiction. He had hit the lowest point of his life; homeless, sleeping on the streets of Hollywood Boulevard. In order to get over his addictions, he enrolled in a Los Angeles drug rehabilitation centre. There he first met Mahin Tat, the centre’s director. The two married in 1995.
Since 1995, Wilson has stayed away from cocaine and alcohol abuse. In 2008, Wilson was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He subsequently underwent successful treatment.
Wilson has actively supported Prostate Cancer Foundation, encouraging black men to get tested for the disease. He is also the national spokesperson of the foundation. He has also spread awareness by providing vocals for Lupe Fiasco’s single, titled ‘Mission’, which focuses on cancer survivors.
For his immense contribution to the field of music, Wilson has been honoured by the governmental organizations of various cities and towns in the USA. ‘Charlie Wilson Day’ is celebrated in different cities on different days for his continued commitment to educating men about the importance of yearly check-ups and early screening for prostate cancer. The City of Los Angeles presented him with the Trailblazer Award. He has also received certificates of appreciation from various organizations and committees.