Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday August 14th 2018

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Desperation to Triumph in the Land of the Free

By Brett Hutchins

A broken home. Teenage homelessness. The murder of a sibling and best friend. The 64-year-old soul musician Charles Bradley has lived a life full of heartache, pain, and now, victory. It’s a story only possible in America, and best told in his words.

Bradley was born in Gainesville, Fla., where he was raised by his grandmother until the age of eight. He doesn’t remember much from his early days, but some of his grandmother’s advice has stuck with him. “She always used to tell me, ‘Be careful with the words you use. Somebody sees a picture behind every word you say,’” Bradley said in tone of humility and gratitude. He jumps at the chance to share every bit of wisdom he’s got.

At age eight, his mother decided it was best for Bradley to move to Brooklyn with her. The New York world was a change of pace for the Florida native, but it presented the boy with new opportunities and experiences. One of these was seeing the one and only James Brown.

James Brown’s Live at the Apollo Theater 1962 is one of greatest live albums of all-time. It’s an indelible testament to the power and control a performer can have over his audience. The guttural screams from that crowd don’t happen for anybody. That this was the first concert the 14-year old Bradley had ever attended now seems like more than a simple twist of fate.

When asked about the concert, you can hear a jolt of electricity go through Bradley. “What stuck out about it? Everything! The way he came on stage, the way he moved, the way he connected. He had us in the palm of his hand. I knew from that moment that it was what I wanted to be doing,” he said.

Unfortunately, shortly after that show, Bradley made the decision to run away from home. It was a decision that would lead to decades of obscurity. He called the subway home for two years. Through Job Corps he was able to find a job in Maine as a chef. After a few years, he hitchhiked aimlessly across the country, all the way to Alaska, and eventually landed in California. This was not the life he had imagined.

Flash forward to 1996, when his mother begged him to come home so she could “truly get to know him for the first time.” Bradley was immediately back in Brooklyn, but the joyful family reunion was short-lived.
Soon, Bradley had an allergic reaction to penicillin that put him on his deathbed. The situation was so dire that Bradley’s brother Joe had to force him through it. “Joe told me that if I don’t feel like living for myself, get through it for him. He needed me by his side,” Bradley recalled of his brother.

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