Charles Brown
Brown performing in 1996
Background information
Birth nameTony Russell Brown[1]
Born(1922-09-13)September 13, 1922
Texas City, Texas, U.S.
DiedJanuary 21, 1999(1999-01-21) (aged 76)
Oakland, California
GenresWest Coast blues, Texas blues, soul blues
InstrumentsPiano, vocals
Years active1943–1999
LabelsAladdin, King, Ace, Bullseye Blues, Verve, 32 Jazz

Tony Russell "Charles" Brown (September 13, 1922 – January 21, 1999) was an American singer and pianist whose soft-toned, slow-paced nightclub style influenced West Coast blues in the 1940s and 1950s. Between 1949 and 1952, Brown had seven Top 10 hits in the U.S. Billboard R&B chart.[2] His best-selling recordings included "Driftin' Blues" and "Merry Christmas Baby".[3]

Early life

Brown was born in Texas City, Texas. As a child he loved music and received classical music training on the piano.[4] He 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, a mustard gas worker at the Pine Bluff Arsenal at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and an apprentice electrician at a shipyard in Richmond, California, before settling in Los Angeles in 1943.[1]


Early success with Johnny Moore

In Los Angeles, an influx of African Americans from the South during World War II created an integrated nightclub scene in which black performers tended to minimize the rougher blues elements of their style. The blues-club style of a light rhythm bass and right-hand tinkling of the piano and smooth vocals became popular, epitomized by the jazz piano of Nat King Cole. When Cole left Los Angeles to perform nationally, his place was taken by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, featuring Brown's gentle piano and vocals.[5]

The Three Blazers signed with Exclusive Records, and their 1945 recording of "Drifting Blues", with 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 that changed American musical performance.[6] Brown led the group in a series of further hits for Aladdin 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).[7] Brown's style dominated the influential Southern California club scene on Central Avenue, in Los Angeles, during that period. He influenced such performers as Floyd Dixon, Cecil Gant, Ivory Joe Hunter, Percy Mayfield, Johnny Ace and Ray Charles.[5]

Solo success

In the late 1940s, a rising demand for blues was driven by a growing audience among white teenagers in the South, which quickly spread north and west. Blues singers such as Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown were getting much of the attention, but what writer Charles Keil dubs "the postwar Texas clean-up movement in blues" was also beginning to have an influence, driven by blues artists such as T-Bone Walker, Amos Milburn and Brown. Their singing was lighter and more relaxed, and they worked with bands and combos that had saxophone sections and played from arrangements.[8]

Brown left the Three Blazers in 1948 and formed his own trio with Eddie Williams (bass) and Charles Norris (guitar). 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.[7]

His final hit for several years was "Hard Times" in 1951. Brown's approach was too mellow to survive the transition to the harsher rhythms of rock and roll, despite his recording in Cosimo Matassa's New Orleans studio in 1956, and he faded from national attention.[4] 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.[3] "Please Come Home for Christmas" had sold over one million copies by 1968 and was awarded a gold disc in that year.[9]

In the 1960s Brown recorded two albums for Mainstream Records.

Later career

In the 1980s Brown made a series of appearances at the New York City nightclub Tramps. As a result of these appearances he signed a recording contract with Blue Side Records and recorded One More for the Road in three days. Blue Side Records closed soon after, but distribution of its records was picked up by Alligator Records. Soon after the success of One More for the Road, Bonnie Raitt helped usher in a comeback tour for Brown.[10]

He began a recording and performing career again, under the musical direction of the guitarist Danny Caron, to greater success than he had achieved since the 1950s. Other members of Charles's touring ensemble included Clifford Solomon on tenor saxophone, Ruth Davies on bass and Gaylord Birch on drums.[3] Several records received Grammy Award nominations. In the 1980s Brown toured widely as the opening act for Raitt.

Tributes and awards

Brown was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996[11] and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14] 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.[11]


Brown died of congestive heart failure in 1999 in Oakland, California,[15] and was interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery, in Inglewood, California.[10]


Releases by Brown with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers are located in that discography.

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As leader

Aladdin releases

Imperial releases

East West (Atlantic subsidiary) release

Ace releases

Teem (Ace subsidiary) release

King releases

Mainstream release

Ace release

King releases


  1. ^ a b "Brown, Tony Russell (Charles)". Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
  2. ^ Giles Oakley (1997). The Devil's Music. Da Capo Press. p. 215. ISBN 978-0-306-80743-5.
  3. ^ a b c Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. pp. 70–71. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  4. ^ a b Dahl, Bill. "Biography". Retrieved 10 November 2015
  5. ^ a b Gillett, Charlie (1996). The Rise of Rock and Roll (2nd ed.). New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 143–147, 316–317. ISBN 0-306-80683-5.
  6. ^ "Charles Brown". Archived from the original on March 4, 2007. Retrieved November 6, 2006.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–1995. Record Research. pp. 48–49.
  8. ^ Keil, Charles (1991) [1966]. Urban Blues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-42960-1.
  9. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins. p. 83. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  10. ^ a b "West Coast Artists – Charles Brown". Retrieved November 6, 2006.
  11. ^ a b "Award Winners and Nominees [search]". The Blues Foundation. 2017. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
  12. ^ "Charles Brown". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
  13. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 1997". National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on August 13, 2020. Retrieved December 17, 2020.
  14. ^ "Artist: Charles Brown". Recording Academy. 2017. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
  15. ^ "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1998–1999". Retrieved January 20, 2015.