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Charles Brown (September 13, 1922 – January 21, 1999), born in Texas City, Texas was an American blues singer and pianist whose soft-toned, slow-paced blues-club style influenced the development of blues performance during the 1940s and 1950s. He had several hit recordings, including "Driftin' Blues" and "Merry Christmas Baby".
In the late 1940s a rising demand for blues was driven by an increasing white teenage audience in the South which quickly spread north and west. Blues shouters got the attention, but also greatly influential was what writer Charles Keil dubbs "the postwar Texas clean-up movement in blues" led by stylists such as T-Bone Walker
, Amos Milburn
and Charles Brown. Their singing was lighter, more relaxed and they worked with bands and combos that had saxophone sections and used arrangements.
As a child Brown demonstrated his love of music and took classical piano lessons. Early on, Brown moved out to Los Angeles, where the great influx of blacks created an integrated nightclub scene in which black performers tended to minimize the rougher blues elements of their style. The blues club style of a light rhythm bass and right-hand tinkling of the piano and smooth vocals became popular, epitomized by the jazz piano of Nat King Cole
. When Cole left Los Angeles to perform nationally, his place was taken by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers
, featuring Charles Brown's gentle piano and vocals.
Brown signed with Aladdin Records and his 1945 recording on that label of the bestseller "Driftin' Blues" with a small combo was a typical club blues song. The single was on the R&B charts for six months, putting Brown at the forefront of a musical evolution that changed American musical performance. His style dominated the influential Southern California club scene on Central Avenue during that period and he influenced such performers as Floyd Dixon
, Cecil Gant
, Ivory Joe Hunter
, Percy Mayfield
, Johnny Ace
and Ray Charles
"Driftin'" was the first of several hits Brown subsequently released "Get Yourself Another Fool", "Black Night", "Hard Times" and "Trouble Blues", all major hits in the early 1950s on such labels as Modern Records as well as Alladin. He was unable to compete with the burgeoning rock and roll sound, though he maintained a small and devoted audience.
Brown's approach was too mellow to survive the transition to rock's harsher rhythms, and he faded from the national limelight. His Please Come Home for Christmas, a hit in 1960 on the King Records remained seasonally popular. During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, he occasionally recorded and tried to regain some prominence. This continued until the 1980s, when Bonnie Raitt
helped usher in a Charles Brown comeback tour.
He began a recording and performing career again, under the musical direction of guitarist Danny Caron, to greater success than he had achieved since the 1950s. Several records received Grammy Award nominations.
He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received both the National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship and the W. C. Handy Award.
Brown died in 1999 in Oakland, California.
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Tracks We Played
Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs
Last Played on December 12, 2012 10:11pm