October 19, 2017
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How a famous soul singer got his start in Maine

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Updated:
Ron Harris | AP | BDN
Ron Harris | AP | BDN
Soul singer Charles Bradley performs at the Shaky Knees Music Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, in May 2014. His publicist said Bradley died Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 after a battle with stomach cancer.

The powerfully raw soul singer Charles Bradley, who died on Saturday of cancer at age 68, got his start in Maine.

The federal training program Job Corps sent the Brooklyn, New York, native to Bar Harbor, where he was working as a chef in the early 1960s, when someone told him that he resembled James Brown.

The remark led to his career as a James Brown impersonator before he himself became a critically acclaimed headliner, “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” cutting three records and touring around the world starting in 2011, according to a 2011 interview with the Chicago Tribune.

But at the time, Bradley said he was shocked to hear of the resemblance.

“He asked me could I sing, and I told him no,” Bradley told the Tribune. “I was ashamed. I was scared to sing.”

A concert in Poland Spring followed. Bradley said that he was supposed to be performing in front of 30 or 40 people, but more than 500 showed up and he was so scared that he had to be pushed onstage, he told the paper.

But once there, he said, he caught the singing bug, doing five or six shows in Poland Spring for Job Corps trainees. His run ended abruptly when some of his bandmates got drafted into military service and sent to Vietnam, he said.

It was likely that Bradley was a cook at the Job Corps building that is now the headquarters for Acadia National Park, according to Bar Harbor Historical Society President Sherwood Carr.

Job Corps men were housed on Mount Desert Isle, while its women stayed in Poland Spring, Carr said.

Bradley worked for decades as a James Brown impersonator under the name Black Velvet, but he was long gone from Maine when he became a late-in-life star. In 2011, at age 62, he released his debut recording.

He earned critical acclaim, though not widespread fame, in a career that ended far too soon. “His charisma, his singing ability, the way he could stretch his voice into a howl that encompassed pain and joy, was so undeniably powerful,” according to Vulture.


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