Sound Vision

“Charles Bradley

This MFF doc tells the story of the 62-year-old soul singer's journey to his debut album, "No Time For Dreaming."

By - Oct 2nd, 2012 10:28 am
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Charles performs to a sold out crowd at his album release show in Brooklyn. All photos from “Charles Bradley: Soul of America.”

With a heartbreakingly painful delivery, struggling soul singer Charles Bradley belts out the question, “Why is it so hard to make it in America?” Through the sorrow in his voice, it’s apparent that his life over the past 62 years have been met with hardship that most couldn’t imagine. But through his tribulations, Bradley finally has his chance to come out on top, as documented in the film Charles Bradley: Soul of America.

As a story of perseverance and determination, Charles Bradley: Soul of America takes the viewer on a journey into the life of a man who, after decades of trying, is about to release his debut album, No Time for Dreaming, at an age where many are thinking about retirement.

The film begins on his 62nd birthday in a dank Brooklyn tavern as Bradley, under the name Black Velvet, dons a cape and wig in a portrayal of his musical hero James Brown. Traveling from his home in a Brooklyn housing project to the basement of the home of his elderly mother, who he cares for, Bradley discusses his upbringing while the countdown to his album’s release is mere months away.

This harrowing story follows the many twists and turns in Bradley’s life, including his mother abandoning him, how he eventually ran away from home and slept in subways, his journey to become a chef and a James Brown impersonator, living through the murder of his brother, and reconnecting with his mother. All the while, he kept his dream of making a name for himself in the music industry alive.

Bradley finally got to the attention of Gabriel Roth at Daptone Records, a Brooklyn-based record company specializing in the soul-revival sound of its roster, which includes Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Budos Band and Antibalas, among others.

Charles Bradley on tour with fellow Daptone artist Sharon Jones.

The label was a perfect fit for Bradley’s soulful cry, and he cut his debut album, No Time for Dreaming, with the Menahan Street Band in 2011. The film shows a good deal of Bradley and the band’s practices and discourse, along with concert footage of Bradley as he opens for Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, and the eventual album release show in Brooklyn.

It’s not a done deal that Bradley will become a superstar, but he’s finally on the right track. With his humble and gracious demeanor coupled with his dedication to his craft, it’s an inspirational story that moves you to pull for someone that has gone through so much and worked so hard.

It’s a story that reflects how it’s never too late to realize your dreams, and while it was a hard road, if you have the will to keep on going, even the most improbable of situations is possible. He is not longer Black Velvet, the James Brown impersonator, he is Charles Bradley and his story is the Soul of America.

Charles Bradley: Soul of America is part of the Milwaukee Film Festival’s Sound Vision series. The film’s first screening is at the Oriental Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, at 5 p.m. Additional screenings are on Oct. 6, 7 and 11. For times and location click here.

The Milwaukee Film Festival runs through Oct. 11 at the Oriental TheatreDowner Theatre and Fox-Bay Cinema. Check out TCD’s Flick by Flick guides for films opening this weekend and throughout October. For more information, visit the MFF website.

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