A blues aficionado for the sophisticated crowd.
Charles Brown’s intimate, laidback blues were the breezy Westcoast sound of choice for postwar audiences. Armed with classical piano training and a repertoire full of ballads, he found success with mellow R&B hits.
Charles Brown was a major musical figure in the pre-rock and roll era of the late Forties and early Fifties.
As a member of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers and also as the leader of his own trio and a solo artist, the West Coast-based singer/pianist recorded a string of R&B hits in his self-described “blue ballad” style. These included three of the most popular R&B singles of the era: “Driftin’ Blues,” “Trouble Blues” and “Black Night.”
Often cited as an influence upon Ray Charles, Brown performed in an intimate, mellow style that, because of its polish and sophistication, has been referred to as “nightclub blues” or “cocktail blues.” Brown also became known for his seasonal-themed blues songs, particularly “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Please Come Home for Christmas.” Though his roots were in Texas, Brown came to epitomize a smooth, mellow blues style that became identified with the West Coast.
During the late Forties and early Fifties, Brown was the most popular blues singer of the day.
Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and worked as a schoolteacher and chemist before opting for a career in music. In 1943 he headed west and settled a year later in Los Angeles, where he joined Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers. Featuring Brown on piano and Moore on guitar, the trio patterned itself after Nat King Cole’s trio, which included Johnny’s brother Oscar. Recording for a variety of labels, Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers found success with “Driftin’ Blues,” “New Orleans Blues,” “More Than You Know” and “Merry Christmas Baby,” to name just four of the thirteen Top Ten R&B hits the trio had with Brown before he left to form the Charles Brown Trio in 1948. While at Aladdin Records, Brown had huge hits with “Trouble Blues” and “Black Night,” which topped the R&B charts for fifteen and fourteen weeks, respectively.
Brown’s mellow blues stylings fell out of favor during the rock and roll revolution of the Fifties, but he continued to record for such labels as Aladdin, King, Jewel and Imperial. The enduring popularity of his bluesy Christmas classics—"Merry Christmas Baby” and “Please Come Home for Christmas"—annually raised his profile, with the latter making the seasonal charts for ten years. All the while, Brown received steady bookings on the club circuit, and interest on the part of European record labels remained high. Brown’s career received a series of boosts in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Alligator Records reissued One More for the Road (1989), a fine collection of standards that drew positive notices. He made a series of well-received albums—including the classic All My Life (1990)—for the Bullseye Blues label, a Rounder subsidiary. Brown appeared with Ruth Brown in the PBS documentary That Rhythm...Those Blues (1988). Bonnie Raitt took him on tour as her opening act in the early Nineties. In 1997 he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts at a White House ceremony. Brown died at 76 of heart failure in early 1999.
Inductee: Charles Brown (piano, vocals; born September 13, 1922, died January 21, 1999)