Charles Brown

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Charles Brown (September 13, 1922 – January 21, 1999) was an American blues singer and pianist. He had several hit recordings, including "Driftin' Blues" (1945), "Drifting Blues" (1946), "Merry Christmas Baby" (1947) and "Black Night" (1951).

He is name-checked on the cover of "Freak Out!" (1966) under the heading "These People Have Contributed Materially In Many Ways To Make Our Music What It Is. Please Do Not Hold It Against Them".


Brown was one of the key innovators of the West Coast Blues style, which fused the influence of such great Texas bluesmen like T-Bone Walker with a sophisticated, jazz-flavored sensibility. His recordings for the Atlas, Modern, Exclusive and Aladdin labels kept him on the Rhythm and Blues charts with remarkable consistency during the 1940s and 50s. Brown's compositions, including groundbreaking "Drifting Blues", "Black Night" and "Fool's Paradise" have become blues standards.

Classically trained on the ivories, Brown earned a degree in chemistry before moving to Los Angeles in 1943. He soon hooked up with the Blazers (guitarist Johnny Moore and bassist Eddie Williams), who modeled themselves after Nat "King" Cole's trio but retained a bluesier tone within their ballad-heavy repertoire. With Brown installed as their vocalist and pianist, the Blazers' "Drifting Blues" for Philo Records (1946) remained on Billboard's R&B charts for 23 weeks, peaking at number two. "Drifting Blues" invented an entirely new blues genre for sophisticated postwar revelers - an ultra-mellow, jazz-inflected sound perfect for sipping a late-night libation in some hip after-hours joint. Brown's smooth trio format was tremendously influential to a host of high-profile disciples: Ray Charles, Amos Milburn, Floyd Dixon, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino. His "Merry Christmas Baby" (1947, Yuletide) is a holiday classic which has been recorded by such artists as Otis Redding and Bruce Springsteen.

In 1988 Brown became one of the first recipients of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's lifetime achievement awards, and he has won the blues world's most prestigious honor, the W.C. Handy award, numerous times in a variety of categories, including "Best Vocalist", "Best Pianist" and "Album Of The Year". In 1997, Brown was also presented with the Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Rex Foundation presented him the 1997 Ralph J. Gleason Award. Brown was a remarkable performer with a charming and magnetic personality that was simply irresistible; in the words of Bonnie Raitt: "His mastery of so many styles of blues is staggering to those of us lucky enough to have seen him." He died of a congestive heart failure on January 21, 1999, age 76. Among honorary pallbearers at his funeral were blues giant Jimmy McCracklin, band leader/performer Johnny Otis (name-checked on the cover of "Freak Out!"), and "Little Richard" Penniman.

See also