Singer and songwriter Charlie Wilson continues to stand the test of time. The living legend’s career is like a fine wine, it only to get better with age.
His career spans over 30 years, dating back to the days in the funk trio Gap Band. Wilson first made his name with a string of hits including “Outstanding,” “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” “Yearning For Your Love,” Early In The Morning” and All of My Love.” The Group retired in 2010.
The eleven-time Grammy nominated artist is still considered to be the uncrowned king of R&B ushering in the 90s’ “new jack swing” that inspired the likes of Guy, Aaron Hall, Keith Sweat and most notably R. Kelly. Wilson’s vocal style is undoubtedly an influence on contemporary music as he continues to rack up countless features with some of today’s biggest names such as Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Jamie Foxx and DJ Mustard.
“I’m just Uncle Charlie, everybody’s calling me,” says Wilson when talking about collaborations. “They keep me current as well because they know I’m going to deliver because I’m a hit maker. They want that flavor as well. I’m going to keep making hits until my clock stops ticking.”
Coming off a breakthrough year with the release of his sixth solo album “Forever Charlie”, many do not know that Uncle Charlie had the highest grossing R&B tour in 2015.
“I went from clubs to theatres, from theatres to arena’s. And I’ve been selling out every arena all over the country,” said Wilson “I could give you some top urban names that wasn’t selling as much as Uncle Charlie was because we was busting them places up.”
2015 brought more favor to Wilson as he added Best Selling Author to his list of credits. His memoir, “I Am Charlie Wilson,” released in June of 2015, is both a New York Times Best Seller and Washington Post Best Seller as well as receiving an honorary mention for non-fiction from the Black Caucus of American Library Associations, Inc.
“Well first of all we are nothing with out God,” said Wilson when discussing his spirituality and faith. “He is our creator, he is definitely our provider and I believe in him and I trust in him and everything is working out fine for me. I had in my life earlier days took off on a tantrum, forgot about God and ended in some precarious places and as soon as I got my faith back everything started working.”
Wilson is not shy when discussing his troubled past. He loves to share his story on 20 years of sobriety.
“Well you know you can give up on yourself and give up on God and you can end up on the streets basically,” said Wilson. “I just lost that contact with God for a small amount of time. You can dibble and dabble and try things, that’s why I tell youngsters, it ain’t cool to do all of that. When I first started testing alcohol and drugs, I thought it was cool smoking cigarettes. I thought I was looking good doing it and it just turned into something slowly and slowly just more devastating for me in my life. I ended up on the wrong street. But God every time I looked up God was there for me, every moment. I testified, I have a testimony, if you never been to Kansas City you can tell nobody how to get there. I have been to hell and back. I always tell people listen man, you need to get your life straight put God first in everything you do and trust me everything will work good. For those that love him, everything who will work good for those who love the lord.”
Raised by a minister father and mother, the Tusla, Oklahoma native discovered he had a musical gift when he was about five years old. He can remember being in school and singing “I left my heart in San Francisco.”
“When I got to the last part of singing the song, girls were screaming so loud in that gym and when I finished they just charged the stage and I took out running the wrong way and went down a hall way into the first door that I seen and it was the girls bathroom. And they was just in there screaming like no other and it frightened me a little bit because I didn’t know why they was running after me. It didn’t seem right until I got through and my mom kind of got tickled and said, ‘No that’s a good thing, its good baby its okay, you did good.”’
Wilson created a group with one of his best friends and as they played at the local YMCA’s, the gigs went from being lightly chaperoned with predominately kids in attendance to once the word spread around town on how good Charlie’s group was, there were just as many adults and chaperones attending as their were kids.
“It was more grown people than it was my own peers,” Wilson said. “Than it went from there to still being very young playing into some clubs because we could play. We sounded like adults and we performed like adults and it just went from there to my brother came and ask me to join a group he had.”
Wilson in 2009 received the coveted Soul Train Icon Award and the BET Awards’ 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award, he is a 2005 BMI Icon Award honoree, was named Billboard’s No. 1 Adult Artist in 2009 and received the Trump Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.
“My favorite collaboration moment was the lifestyle achievement award for BET when Snoop came out and Pharrell came out and Justin (Timberlake) came out and we just smashed the building and we smashed millions television sets,” said Wilson. “I will never forget it and BET will never forget it because I hold the highest rating that was ever watched. First it use to be Michael Jackson and I topped that so I’m wearing the crown right now. So for those that didn’t know that I got the highest rating, I’m holding the seat right now. Like somebody’s mom told me “Charlie Wilson I don’t care who they get don’t worry about it ain’t going to be nobody to top that for a long, long time.” It was Stephen Hill’s mom (laughs).”
Now in remission following a bout with prostate cancer, he became a spokesperson for the Prostate Cancer Foundation in 2008 to promote awareness and educate the male community about a disease that afflicts one in six American men and one in three African-American men. Most recently, Wilson participated in the Stand Up 2 Cancer telethon in 2014.
“I’m having the best time of my life-teaching youngsters about drugs and alcohol, about cancer being a spokesperson for life,” said Wilson. “I believe that God helps those that help themselves and I believe that if you have faith with works you can go to the mountaintop whatever your mountaintop is. But faith without works is dead. You have to want to do something you have to want to go further in your life you want to have to make a difference, inspire others and with that in faith and trust in the lord you can do anything you want to do.”