‘Keep your soul and spirit alive’: Charles Bradley’s Q&A with The Northern Light

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Arts and culture

This story was originally published for The Northern Light. 


Charles Bradley started his career in music as a James Brown impersonator by the name of Black Velvet. Bradley was discovered by Gabriel Roth of Daptone Records while working as Black Velvet.

Bradley spoke with TNL before his upcoming performance on Feb. 20 at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium.


Are you excited to visit Alaska?

Bradley: “Yes, Alaska is one of my favorite places. I was up there a long time ago in the summer in Ketchikan, Alaska. It’s very beautiful there. I have never tasted water that tasted so good — you just wanna drink more and more and more. When I come up there, I’m gonna drink a lot of water!”

What is your favorite part about your job?

“One of the best things about my job is reaching the people with my life story. I can share the hurts and things. Before, I didn’t know how to do it, and with my lyrics I say a lot — so I tell my life story through my songs. When I go to the public I hug them or shake their hands, and they thank me for showing them how to see life a little more clear. I try to use my words and lyrics to the best of my experience, show them more deepness that shows colors of my age.”

Do you think your life has taught you a lot about how to perform soul and funk music?

“Yes, I wish that I had an opportunity a long time ago. I’ve always been compressed in my way and couldn’t shake the feeling.”

Where did your love of soul music begin?

“It started in Florida. We used to make music and use the big ol’ clothes things, big scrub pots — what are those things called? Anyway, we used these scrub pots and we would get a string and hook it to the pot and make it like a bass. Then we would get a piece of tin and use that to keep the beat. In church, we used to do little hymns, which I wasn’t too crazy about, more about the instruments we used to make. What really gave me a good feelin’ about music was when James Brown performed. I got a call last week and a friend called and said, ‘Charles I know you do your own thing, but I gotta ask you for a favor. The band that you used to play with wants to perform two songs by James Brown. We want you to perform with us.’ I used to be a James Brown impersonator. I loved performing his songs. I’m gonna do me but do other people too. Some songs I just wanna do because they have so much depth to it. In my own way, in a soulful way, put emphasis on it.”

Do you feel blessed?

“I know I finally found the road I wanna be on. I’ve been on so many different roads. I never gave up. I thought it was ending for me, and at the age of 62 someone heard me. I had to get a lot of pain to get this much joy. Someone heard me, and I had to open up to somebody. If I could use my soul, my spirit, my heart, my lyrics, and to say I have made it, then people can do the same. Sometimes it hurts, but if you keep your love and heart strong and you be the own person that you wanna be and give your love to the world, there is something great out there. Keep your spirit and soul alive.”

The Author

Hi! My name is Sam Davenport. I am a freelance writer and lifelong Alaskan who loves reporting on the state’s history, food and culture. I am a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, where I received bachelors degrees in journalism and political science. I was the executive editor of The Northern Light — UAA’s student-run newspaper — for 2.5 years During my time at UAA, I completed internships at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. I am the managing editor of The Spenardian, an award-winning hyper-local news blog and magazine for the neighborhood of Spenard. I have been published in Vice, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News, The Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Business, The Northern Light, The Anchorage Press, The Frontiersman, Alaska’s Energy Desk, KSKA, KTOO, Last Frontier Magazine, Crude Magazine, Mountain View Post, The Spenardian, Alaska Contractor Magazine, Wildheart Magazine and True North Magazine. For freelancing rates or a copy of my resume, please email me at samanthabdavenport@gmail.com.

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