Born: September 13, 1922
Died: January 21, 1999, Texas City, Texas
Tony Russell "Charles" Brown was a blues singer and pianist of the 1940s and 1950s. He had several hit recordings, including "Driftin' Blues" and "Merry Christmas Baby."
Brown was born in Texas City, Texas. As a child, he loved music and received training on the piano. Charles graduated from Central High School in Galveston, Texas, in 1939 and Prairie View A&M College in 1942 with a degree in chemistry. He then became a chemistry teacher at George Washington Carver High School in Baytown, Texas. Next, he was a mustard gas worker at the Pine Bluff Arsenal at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and then an apprentice electrician at a shipyard in Richmond, California, before settling in Los Angeles in 1943.
The Three Blazers 1945 recording of "Drifting Blues," featuring Brown on piano and vocals, stayed on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart for six months, putting Brown at the forefront of a musical evolution. Brown led the group in a series of further hits over the next three years, including "New Orleans Blues" and the original version of "Merry Christmas Baby" (both in 1947) and "More Than You Know" (1948). He influenced such performers as Floyd Dixon, Cecil Gant, Ivory Joe Hunter, Percy Mayfield, Johnny Ace, and Ray Charles.
Brown left the Three Blazers in 1948. He signed with Aladdin Records and had immediate success with "Get Yourself Another Fool" and then had one of his biggest hits, "Trouble Blues," in 1949, which stayed at number one on the Billboard R&B chart for 15 weeks in the summer of that year. He followed with "In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down," "Homesick Blues," and "My Baby's Gone" before having another R&B chart-topping hit with "Black Night," which stayed at number one for 14 weeks from March to June 1951.
His final hit for several years was "Hard Times" in 1952. Brown's approach was too mellow to survive the transition to the harsher rhythms of rock and roll, despite recording in Cosimo Matassa's New Orleans studio in 1956. Brown subsequently faded from national attention. Though he was unable to compete with the more aggressive sound that was increasing in popularity, he had a small, devoted audience, and his songs were covered by the likes of John Lee Hooker and Lowell Fulson.
His "Please Come Home for Christmas," a hit for King Records in 1960, remained seasonally popular. "Please Come Home for Christmas" had sold over one million copies by 1968 and was awarded a gold disc. In the 1960s, Brown recorded two albums for Mainstream Records.
In the 1980s, Brown made a series of appearances at the New York City nightclub Tramps. He began a recording and performing career again to greater success than he had achieved since the 1950s. Several records received Grammy Award nominations. In the 1980s, Brown toured widely as the opening act for Bonnie Raitt.
Brown was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996 and was inducted into the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. He was a recipient of a 1997 National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is the highest honor in the folk and traditional arts in the United States.
Brown was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album three times: in 1991 for All My Life, 1992 for Someone To Love, and 1995 for Charles Brown's Cool Christmas Blues.
Between 1987 and 2005, he was nominated for seventeen Blues Music Awards (formerly known as the W. C. Handy Awards) in multiple categories, with a win in the Blues Instrumentalist: Piano/Keyboard category in 1991 and wins in the Male Blues Vocalist category in 1993 and 1995.