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Charles Brown
Charles Brown
Congestive Heart FailureJanuary 21, 1999
Age 76
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 NY TIMES
 
Charles Brown, 76, Blues Pianist and Singer

          By PETER WATROUS

               Charles Brown, the singer of the hit "Merry Christmas Baby" and a member of Johnny Moore and the Three Blazers, died on Thursday in Oakland, Calif. Brown, who was 76 and lived in Oakland, was to have been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in March. 

          The cause was congestive heart failure, said a spokesman at his management company. 

          Brown, toward the end of his career, had benefited from a revived interest in his art, partly helped by support from singer Bonnie Raitt. But in the 1940s and 1950s, Brown, as part of the Three Blazers and on his own, was a star in the new black music that was coming out of postwar Los Angeles.  Though in the last part of his career Brown played the role of the blues pianist and singer, he was, as so many of the musicians in the rhythm-and-blues scene, well versed in jazz, gospel and classical music. 

          Brown also had a bachelor's degree in chemistry, which led him to seek work in California during World War II. He landed in Los Angeles, abandoned chemistry and took work as an elevator man near Central Avenue, Los Angeles' center of jazz and rhythm-and-blues. He won a spot at the amateur hour at the Lincoln Theater, much like the Apollo's in Harlem, and in the audience were Moore, a guitarist, and his friend Eddie Williams, a bassist. They needed a pianist and singer, and hired Brown. The group became the Three Blazers. 

          The group became one of the premier examples of the new, sophisticated rhythm-and-blues that was replacing jazz as popular music among blacks. Like Nat (King) Cole's trio (which featured Moore's  brother Oscar on guitar), the group mixed swing, blues and often-advanced harmony, and placed Brown's voice out in front. In 1945 they recorded Brown's composition "Drifting Blues," which became a hit, and in its introspective, sophisticated way became a template for a new style. 

          Brown's singing, casual and with a drawl, was intimate and in the jazz crooning tradition, even if the group's sound was deeply based in blues. One sign of the influence of Brown is that Ray Charles' early recordings are a direct imitation of his style; others are that Frankie Laine and Kay Starr were regulars at Brown's recording sessions, and scores of rhythm-and-blues singers based their careers on his style. 

          In 1948, Brown went on his own and began recording under his name; a year later he married rhythm-and-blues singer Mabel Scott. In 1951, he had a hit performing "Black Night," and in 1952 he had another with a tune written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, "Hard Times." 

          For the next several decades, Brown's style, replaced by more modern black music, fell out of favor, and by the 1970s Brown was working as a teacher and janitor. By the end of the '70s, European record companies were interested in him, and his career flourished. Until recently, Brown spent much of his time touring and recording. In the early 1990s, he toured as Ms. Raitt's opening act, and that brought him to a new market. 

          There are no survivors. 

 
 
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Charles Brown, a blues pianist, singer and composer, died Thursday of heart failure. He was 76. 

Best known for his ``cool blues'' style, Brown influenced several similar artists, including Floyd Dixon and Ray Charles. 

With his smooth voice and sensual compositions, Brown became one of the preeminent figures in California's blues scene. He started in the piano lounges of Los Angeles and later joined the Three Blazers. The group's hits included ``Drifting Blues'' and ``I Miss You So.'' 

Brown was to be inducted March 15 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 
 
 
       
 

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Charles Brown
 
(b. 13 September 1922, Texas City, Texas, USA)  

Despite learning piano while a child, Brown became a teacher of chemistry. In 1943, living in Los Angeles, he realized that he could earn more money working as a pianist-singer. At that time, the top small group in Los Angeles was the Nat King Cole Trio, but when Cole moved on, the Three Blazers, led by Johnny Moore (guitarist brother of Oscar Moore ) and whom Brown had just joined, moved into the top spot.  

By 1946 the band was a national favourite, with hit records, including Driftin' Blues, and appearances at New York's Apollo Theatre. In 1948 the group broke up although Moore continued to lead a band with the same name. 

Brown was now on his own and virtually unknown as a solo performer. In the early '50s a string of successful records, many featuring his own compositions, boosted his career. Additionally, his work was recorded by such artists as B.B. King, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Amos Milburn and Fats Domino, with whom Brown recorded I'll Always Be In Love With You and Please Believe Me. He was heavily influenced by Robert Johnson, Louis Jordan, and especially by Pha Terrell, the singer with the Andy Kirk band. 

Brown's singing evolved into a highly melodic ballad style which still showed signs of his blues roots. He aptly defined himself as a ‘blue ballad singer’.  In a sense he has the velvety sound of Cole, encrusted with the tough cynicism of Leroy Carr and Lonnie Johnson. Unlike Cole, Brown's star waned, although he had successful records with songs such as Christmas Comes But Once A Year. One follower was Ray Charles, who, early in his career, modelled his singing on an amalgam of Brown and Cole's style.  

By the end of the '60s Brown was working in comparative obscurity at Los Angeles nightspots. An appearance at the 1976 San Francisco Blues Festival boosted his reputation, but his pattern remained pretty much unaltered into the '80s and early '90s. He can still be found constantly touring the US and Europe, providing superb live entertainment, backed by outstanding guitar player/musical director Danny Caron.    
 

 
 Music Central '96
  
 
 

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