But he also began “Changes” with a rousing rendition of “God Bless America,” prefacing it with a monologue in verse:
Hello, this is Charles Bradley
A brother that came from the hard licks of life
That knows that America is my home
America, you’ve been real, honest, hurt and sweet to me
But I wouldn’t change it for the world
Charles Edward Bradley was born on Nov. 5, 1948, in Gainesville, Fla., to a single mother. He was raised by his grandmother until he was 8, when his mother returned and moved him to Brooklyn with her. “I didn’t know who she was,” Mr. Bradley told Rollo & Grady in a 2011 interview.
By his early teens, he was largely homeless, living on subway trains and in old cars, wherever he could find shelter. Mr. Bradley went on to find work through the Job Corps program, moving between Virginia, New Jersey, Maine and upstate New York, and eventually finding his way to California. But it was a trip with his sister, at age 14, to see Brown at the Apollo Theater that sent Mr. Bradley on his musical path.
“That’s what really gave me a lot of impulse,” he said.
In 1996, Mr. Bradley returned to Brooklyn to care for his ailing mother. He soon began performing Brown’s songs as Black Velvet while also working as a handyman. (When Daptone was founded as a label and studio in 2002, Mr. Bradley helped to install the plumbing.)
His rise as a musician coincided with a familial reconciliation. “I used to think my mom was evil, but we were able to find forgiveness at the end of her life,” Mr. Bradley told The New York Times Magazine this year. “Now I can go out into the world without animosity or anger and show people the love in my soul.”
Over the years, he performed with the Menahan Street Band, His Extraordinaires, Budos Band and the Jimmy Hill and the Allstarz Band.
In concert, he often dedicated his heartbreaking cover of Black Sabbath’s…