And so this is Christmas. I hope that this season of light has been good to you and those you love. Soon we’ll be marking the end of a year that could only be described as troubling. In addition to the nation’s problems, and the world’s, we’ve lost too many great people this year. The world of music in particular suddenly finds itself without many people whose like we will never see again.
We lost Charles Brown nearly 16 years ago now, but he left behind a stunning musical legacy. He didn’t start out to be a musician though. In fact he graduated from college with a degree in chemistry and became a high school chemistry teacher in his home state of Texas. After that he worked at the Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, and as an apprentice shipyard electrician in Richmond, California. Brown finally settled in Los Angeles in 1943.
None of this negates the fact that Brown had been interested in music from the time he was a child, and even learned classical piano as a youngster. When he arrived in LA, Brown found a burgeoning, integrated music scene in which black performers smoothed out the rough edges of their performances in order to attract the white crowds. Nat King Cole was a good example of what I mean, and when he became a national star a group called Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers filled the niche Cole had left behind in LA. The group’s lead singer and piano player was Charles Brown.
By 1945, Aladdin Records had signed Brown, and his recording of “Driftin’ Blues” was a hit on the R&B chart. More hits followed, including “Get Yourself Another Fool”, “Black Night”, “Hard Times,” and “Trouble Blues.” By that time though, rock and roll was being born, and Brown, with his mellow sound, had a hard time competing with the wave of sound that was washing over the world.
Although his career faded, Brown’s 1960 release for King Records, “Please Come Home For Christmas,” has remained a holiday favorite to this day. Brown wrote the song with Gene Redd. It reached #76 on the Billboard Hot 100, it appeared on the Christmas Singles chart for nine years, and was #1 in 1972. By 1968 the record had sold over a million copies and earned a gold disc. Both Brown’s A-side, and the B-side of the record, “Christmas (Comes But Once a Year)” by Amos Milburn, appear below.
“Please Come Home For Christmas” has been covered many times by a host of prominent performers including a 1978 version by the Eagles that was #18 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was also covered by Jon Bon Jovi, Johnny Adams, Pat Benatar, Harry Connick, Jr, Fats Domino, Willie Nelson, Aaron Neville, Southside Johnny, and James Brown, among others.
In the 1980’s Brown had a career resurgence, thanks in part to Bonnie Raitt. A series of shows that he did at a club called Tramps in New York City resulted in a deal with Blue Side Records, and an album called One More For the Road. When Blue Side folded, Alligator Records picked up Brown’s distribution, and Raitt supported a national tour for Brown. His career reborn, Brown continued to record and tour, and had even more success than he did in the ’50s. He received several Grammy nominations for the albums he released during this period.
Charles Brown was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. He was the recipient of National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, and the W. C. Handy Award.
In these times when events seem so far out of our control all that we can really do is to draw our loved ones closer, and be sure that they know how much we love them. What better time for that than Christmas day? I wish all the best to you and yours for a joyous holiday season.