At the age of 65, Charles Bradley has been through it all. Since he was 14, he had been honing his spitting-image impression of James Brown, but his dreams of becoming a soul singer in the same mode dimmed by the decade as he endured the murder of his brother, illness, persistent unemployment, profound poverty, and illiteracy. Audiences everywhere were introduced to Bradley in the documentary about his life, Soul of America, which played internationally at Hot Docs Toronto, the IDFA, and on the festival circuit across North America. Viewers fell in love with Bradley’s earnestness, charm and heart as he finally broke through, at age 62, with an album called No Time for Dreaming. That album went on to find itself atop many critics’ best-of lists, including making Rolling Stone‘s 50 best albums of 2011.
The one thread uniting Bradley’s hardscrabble yet remarkable life? His incredible love for his mother, Inez Bradley (née Welch). This love was displayed in full in that documentary, despite the fact that she abandoned him when he was a child and the pair only really reunited in 1996 when Inez Bradley asked to live with her son so she could get to know him. Even through the hard times, supporting his mother was the goal. Even her brief appearance in the moving trailer will send shivers down your spine:
Unfortunately, Bradley lost his guiding light. His mother passed away on Saturday, according to fellow Daptone Records labelmate Sharon Jones.
“He had a show that night too, and he went and did his show. And guess what: When he left the house to go do the show, his mom was older aged and she died in the house, I heard her body was still there—he had to leave his mother’s body to go do the show.
“I was proud of him. I told him, ‘be strong, do what you gotta do.'”
Jones, who said Bradley was inconsolable when she called to offer her condolences, said that she took comfort in the fact that Bradley’s mother was there for her son’s redemption. Bradley released a second album last year, Victim of Love, which he’s been touring to sold-out crowds.
“He took such good care of her. And at least she got to see him become a star.”
Thank you all for the kind words & thoughts in remembrance of my mom. I’m lucky to have so many people who love me. My love to all of you.
— Charles Bradley (@Charles_Bradley) January 21, 2014