April 29, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Circumstances could have been completely different. Charles Brown was a chemist. He attended college, earned a degree in chemistry, taught high school science, and landed a civil service job in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. That would have been a career track for most. Brown had other ideas. He bristled at the racism he encountered each day. He volunteered to serve in the second world war, but was deemed unfit due to asthma. So Charles Brown packed his bags and headed to California.
Thank goodness. Can you imagine a holiday season without "Merry Christmas Baby?" Or a world without "Drifting Blues?" And who played the piano behind a fellow Texan, Ivory Joe Hunter, on "Blues at Sunrise?" How about "Trouble Blues," or "Black Night?" Mind you, most of those songs were hits before Elvis Presley had ever set foot in Sun Studios.
How about one of my all-time favorite records, Sam Cooke's Night Beat? If you simply listen to the way Cooke sings on that record, you might reach the same conclusion I did - would that record exist were it not for Charles Brown?
Brown celebrated New Year's Eve with WBGO, part of the Toast of the Nation coast-to-coast live music party. He welcomed 1994 from the Sheraton Hotel in Tacoma, Washington. His cool, bluesy ballad style was especially poignant on a song popularized by Lucky Millinder.
© 2008 WBGO