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Charles Bradley (1948 – 2017), soul singer lived his dream

Frank Hoensch / Redferns via Getty Images

Singer began recording at age 62

Charles Bradley channeled the struggles of his life into soulful music. At an age when many musicians consider retiring, Bradley was just getting started.

“Always a fighter, Charles battled cancer with everything he had,” his management said in the announcement of his death on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017.

Bradley was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the fall of 2016, but made a recovery and was touring before the cancer returned. This time it had metastasized to his liver. He was 68.

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He had only been recording music for six years, but it was the culmination of a dream that began when he was 14 years old. That was when he first saw James Brown at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

He began singing to imitate his favorite performer, but it never seemed like a viable career. He would impersonate Brown in small shows for years as he traveled the country working a series of odd jobs.

After returning to New York during the 1990s, his James Brown act caught the attention of Daptone Records, a Brooklyn-based independent label specializing in funk and soul music. There was an authenticity to his performance that went beyond tribute.

His sweat-drenched performances and raw vocals full of yearning were the living embodiment of soul. When he sang, “Why is it so hard to make it in America?” in the autobiographical song “Why Is It So Hard,” listeners knew it was coming from a man who’d spent many nights, often without a roof over his head, asking that same question with no expectation it would ever be answered. His debut album, “No Time for Dreaming” was released in 2011.

During his all-too-brief recording career he released three albums, was the subject of the documentary “Soul of America” (2012), and performed on TV in shows like the Netflix Marvel series “Luke Cage.”

People were paying to hear him sing as himself, and he was making a living playing music. It took a lifetime to achieve, but for a time, Bradley got to live his dream.

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