From Charlie Wilson’s breakout as a member of the Gap Band (“You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” “Outstanding”) in the ’80s to his revered solo recordings (2005’s certified gold “Charlie, Last Name Wilson,” 2009’s Grammy-nominated “Uncle Charlie”) and his latest release, “Just Charlie”), Wilson has sold millions of albums, inspired a throng of artists who modeled their vocal styling after his (most notably Aaron Hall and R. Kelly) and cemented his status as a musical icon with accolades from Billboard and BET, among a host of others.
Wilson was honored earlier this year with Grammy nominations for his chart-topping single, “You Are,” Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance. In 2010, he also received two Grammy nominations for Best R&B Album, “Uncle Charlie,” and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for his hit single, “There Goes My Baby.”
“I’ve tried really hard to stay current and consistent in radio and try to cut the best records that I could,” said Wilson. “That’s just what I’ve been doing all the time. I cut new music just about every single day. In the beginning, when I started my solo career, I wasn’t in the studio every day; when it was time to record I would go in. Now, it’s like an everyday thing. I try and record music like it was back in the day. It’s paying off that way, because you stay close to something that you’re passionate about.”
Beyond music, Wilson is committed to promoting awareness and educating his community about prostate cancer. As a survivor of a disease that afflicts one in six American men — and one in three African-American men — Wilson in 2008 teamed up with the Prostate Cancer Foundation. In April, he announced teaming up with Janssen Biotech to launch their Making Awareness A Priority (M.A.P.) program, which brings together leading voices in advocacy and health education through live events in select cities across the country.
Wilson credits his wife of 18 years, Mahin, for saving his life by insisting on twice-yearly doctor visits. “Stuff that I used to shy away from was those exams, because it hurts, but the mammograms will hurt women, too, so I just had to man up and get the exam, get poked with the needles and all that stuff that I kept shying away from,” he said. “I wanted to share this news with everybody else, just as I had been sharing my drug and alcohol abuse prior to that. People say to me, ‘Man, why are you telling everyone your business?’ And I say, ‘It’s not my business, this is your business. I’m trying to alert you and let you know what’s killing men and brothers out here’.”
Wilson recently launched his new Uncle Charlie Hats by Charlie Wilson Spring and Summer Collection 2012. The hat line includes fashion and casual hats for both men and women. Growing up in the church as the son of a Pentecostal bishop, Wilson says he is influenced every day by his early lessons. “I believe strongly in God and pray every morning before I get up and at night before I go to sleep, just in case I get caught up,” he said no. “If the other angels pay me a visit, I want to be able to ask God to forgive me for all the things I’ve done that day. Spirit plays a big part in my life. We strongly believe in faith and God, so we try to live our life the right way. We do a lot of praying in this home here.”
Although Wilson struggled with alcohol and drug addiction that consumed him once The Gap Band broke up, he credits his belief in a higher power for his success today. “God is the reason why we are here and we live,” he explained. “Scripture says, ‘I give you life, and that more abundantly,’ and I take that into account: This life is worth living. If I have to go, and it’s not going to be by my hands, then the time allotted for me is up. So, I’m going to try and live it the best way I can. It used to be that I was existing in this life because I was an alcoholic and a crack cocaine addict, so the ups and downs were bad for me. But I never stopped believing in God. I would always ask God, ‘Don’t let the devil kill me out here while I’m getting myself back together,’ and he gave me a chance. I don’t know if I would have another chance if I were to slip back out and went back to that life and just going from pillar to post and from drug spot to drug spot. I think (God) would say, ‘You asked me for that and I gave it to you and you went back, so time’s up.’ So the time that I am here, I talk to men and women about different things and I try to sing the right kinds of music and try to make people happy and make them feel good. That’s what I’m here for: I’m a messenger.”
With The Gap Band, Wilson and brothers Ronnie and Robert helped define and popularize an upbeat form of funk that was equally infectious and lasting. “Outstanding,” “You Dropped a Bomb On Me” and “I Don’t Believe You Want To Get Up And Dance (Oops Up Side Your Head)” were among their immense catalog of hits and are among the most sampled songs in music history. One of Wilson’s vocal signatures is the giggle, or short, spasmodic laugh, that is interspersed in many of his funk hits.
“It was an accident, really. There was something that was going on at that time and it just came out about a track that I was doing,” said Wilson as he emitted a short giggle. “When I heard it back, I said, ‘What is that?’ and they said, ‘That was you giggling about something.’ We kept it and it got popular, and people would ask me to do that giggle and it just came out that way. It’s just crazy.”
For more information about the Prostate Cancer Foundation, visit www.myprostatecancerroadmap.com. Uncle Charlie hats are available exclusively at www.unclecharliewilson.com/shop.