Charles Brown was a smooth blues singer

Charles Brown
Wed, 1922-09-13

On this date in 1922 Charles Brown was born. He was an African American blues singer.

He was born in Texas City, TX. After his mother died and his itinerant cotton laborer father left, he was raised by his maternal grandmother. Urged on by her, at the age of ten he began studying classical piano. She instilled in her grandson the importance of education, and he eventually completed a degree in chemistry, briefly taught school, and worked as a laboratory chemist during the early war years.

But early in his life, he was deeply affected by the music of jazz great Art Tatum and his sophisticated approach that blended classical music technique and dynamics with the blues and jazz.

Moving to Los Angeles in 1944, Brown joined The Three Blazers, whose sound epitomized the cool, relaxed West Coast piano trio style but also integrated a melancholy blues quality to the music. Brown's smooth trio format was tremendously influential to Ray Charles, Amos Milburn, and Floyd Dixon, for starters. Classically trained on the ivories, he and his group the Blazers modeled themselves after Nat "King" Cole's trio but retained a bluesier tone within a ballad-heavy inventory.

With Brown as their vocalist and pianist, the Blazers Drifting Blues for Philo Records remained on Billboard's R&B charts for 23 weeks in 1945. That was followed by "Sunny Road," "So Long," "New Orleans Blues," and their immortal 1947 Yuletide classic "Merry Christmas Baby." Blazers stayed near the top of the R&B listings from 1946 through 1948, until Brown opted to go solo.

As a soloist, Brown made the R&B Top Ten no less than ten times from 1949 to 1952, with Get Yourself Another Fool, Trouble Blues, Black Night, and Hard Times. Brown's mellow approach failed to make the transition to rock's brasher rhythms, and he soon faded from national prominence.

Occasionally recording without causing much of a stir during the 1960s and 1970s, Brown began to regroup by the mid-1980s with "One More for the Road," a set cut in 1986. Bonnie Raitt brought him on tour with her as her opening act (thus introducing the blues vet to a whole new generation or two of fans). His recording career took off too, with 1990s "All My Life."

His incredible piano skills and laid-back vocal delivery remained every bit as mesmerizing at the end of his life as they were way back in 1945. He continued in 1998 with "So Goes Love." He died on January 21, 1999

Nothing But the Blues: The Music and the Musicians
Edited by Lawrence Cohn
Copyright 1993 Abbeville Publishing Group, New York
ISBN 1-55859-271-7

To Become a Musician

Person / name: 

Brown, Charles