The lead singer of the Gap Band, Charlie Wilson, has experienced many highs and lows in the music industry throughout the years. From having numerous number-one Billboard hits with the Gap Band, to being homeless, overcoming a drug addiction, surviving prostate cancer, rebuilding his solo career, and becoming a number-one best-selling author, Wilson has proven that persistence and belief can help one endure life’s obstacles.
The MSR spoke with Wilson via telephone to discuss his 40-plus years in music, his memoir I Am Charlie Wilson, and his upcoming performance at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand.
“I’m on a journey that God has allowed me to take,” said Wilson, whose memoir released June of 2015 landed on both the Washington Post and New York Times Best Seller lists. The book was also given an honorary mention for non-fiction from the Black Caucus of American Library Association.
‘I’m not through with this journey. There’s been ups and downs. I know I’m an inspiration to so many millions of people. I have a lot more to say and my story is not finished,” said Wilson.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma native started his singing career at a young age through ministry. “I use to sing in church before my father preached. Me and my siblings were the warm up act. [So] I’m not afraid to be around a crowd. Imagine a four year old with a microphone in his hand…that would be me,” he recalled.
The Church of God In Christ in Tulsa was the foundation for the Wilson family, headed by his father, Oscar Wilson. “My father preached everywhere, no matter what the issues were. He would preach and slowly a crowd would start to form,” he recalled.
“We started recording and ended up with Leon Russell on tour.” At that time, country rock singer Russell, also a native Oklahoman, was performing in Tulsa nightclubs. “It turned into something bigger than playing in clubs and lounges.”
The name Gap Band was formed by using each initial of the acronym representing the three major streets in North Tulsa’s Greenwood District where they grew up: Greenwood Avenue bordered Pine Street to the north and Archer Street to the south. The area was known as “Black Wall Street” during the 1920s.
“Greenwood was where all the Black-owned businesses were located, rich businesses,” recalled Wilson. “They had maids and butlers, in addition to the formation of Black Wall Street.”
The Gap Band found success on the charts with such hits as “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” “Party Train,” “Yearning For Your Love,” “Early In The Morning,” “Outstanding” and “I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops).”
Wilson, a 11-time Grammy Award nominee, has also provided background vocals for notable artists such as Stevie Wonder on “Aint Gonna Stand For It,” and Zapp & Roger’s “Computer Love,” to name a few.
As a solo artist, he has seven studio albums, with his most notable being the 2015 album release Forever Charlie. His moniker, “Charlie, Last Name Wilson” came from the 2005 album of the same name. He has also appeared on features ranging from R. Kelly, Mystikal, Snoop Dogg, and 2 Pac to Justin Timberlake and Pharrell.
Wilson’s upcoming performance in the Twin Cities with opening act Fantasia is Friday, August 26 at 7:30 pm at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds Grandstand. He will perform solo hits, as well as songs from his days in The Gap Band.
In addition, you can expect to hear a few songs as a tribute to the late local legend Prince. “I love Prince, always have,” said Wilson. “He left us music we can always love and appreciate. He was such an entity and was one of the hardest [working] men in show business.”
Wilson said he is currently working on another album. “I’m 20 songs in. “I have to narrow it down to eight or 12 songs. I am happy to continue to record for the fans and those that love Charlie Wilson.”
For music, videos and more information on Wilson, check out Charlie Wilson Facebook page or visit his website at https://charliewilsonmusic.com. To purchase tickets to Charlie Wilson and with special guest Fantasia, go here.
Ivan Phifer welcomes reader comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ivan B. Phifer is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com