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On this date, in 1922, Charles Brown was born. He was a Black chemist and 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.
He graduated from Central High School in Galveston, Texas, in 1939 and Prairie View A&M College in 1942 with a degree in chemistry. He then became a chemistry teacher at George Washington Carver High School in Baytown, Texas. Brown was a mustard gas worker at the Pine Bluff Arsenal at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and an apprentice electrician at a shipyard in Richmond, California, before settling in Los Angeles in 1943.
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. For starters, Brown's smooth trio format was tremendously influential to Ray Charles, Amos Milburn, and Floyd Dixon. Classically trained on the ivories, he and his 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." The Blazers stayed near the top of the R&B listings from 1946 through 1948 until Brown opted to go solo.
Brown made the R&B Top Ten no less than ten times as a soloist from 1949 to 1952, with Get Yourself Another Fool, Trouble Blues, Black Night, and Hard Times. Brown's mellow approach failed to transition to rock's brasher rhythms and 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 new generation or two of fans). His recording career took off, too, with the 1990s "All My Life."
His incredible piano skills and laid-back vocal delivery remained as mesmerizing at the end of his life as they were in 1945. He continued in 1998 with "So Goes Love." Charles Brown 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