For more than 40 years Charlie Wilson-‘The Entertainer’- has seen everything that life has to offer, but long before he would embark on a journey that appears to have infinite longevity he was just a preacher’s kid in Oklahoma.
Wilson, who will be performing at Quicken Loans Arena on Valentines Day, reflected on his mystifying staying power as an R&B performer, his bout with homelessness, cancer, his music, his commitment to his wife Mahin Wilson and his devotion to his many loyal fans.
I reminded Wilson of the good ole days when he was covered by the late Gertrude Gipson-Penland who was the Los Angeles Sentinel Entertainment Editor in the late 1970s when I broke into the journalism industry.
That’s when Wilson performed at the Total Experience as one of the lead singers as the co-founder of The Gap Band.
The Gap Band was chart topper with successful songs such as "I'm in Love" and "Shake" which became a Top 10 R&B hit in 1979.
The group released "I Don't Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops!)" on their album The Gap Band II that soared to #4 R&B and went gold.
If Wilson’s career had ended right there it would have been a high note, but instead it was just beginning.
“I was searching for some grooves that was going to last for a long time, but I didn’t think they were going to last for a long time, I was having fun man. I think because I was having fun a lot that the fun turned into something special. We can’t really determine what’s go be here and what aint go be here. I heard a lot of records in our lifetime that I thought for sure was going to be playing today and in that year it hasn’t even been played since and the stuff that I didn’t think was going to last a very long time is still playing,” said Wilson explaining his tour with The Gap Band.
He said that he would be selfish if he said he thought that he knew what he was doing, “we was just having fun and that’s basically it.”
Wilson has since zoomed into a new stratosphere.
“You know Kenny, I got a young boy’s spirit that lives inside of me that likes to play…a lot,” Wilson said during an interview with the Call & Post. “I have this young boy spirit in me that wants to have fun and the body has to be in shape to oblige this young spirit to do what he want to do and that young spirit has a young Charlie Wilson in there. So, that’s drives me a lot and to know that I have had so many doors shut in my face for so many years, telling me that I needed to retire and its not going to work that made me want to play even harder. So, I just grab this little boy spirit and say let’s go and I just roll with him all the time 24/7 until I was strong enough to kick some doors in for me and kicked them wide open and went hard for it. People were telling me I can just retire and go home and I was like I’m just getting started you’ve got to be kidding me. Hey man, I can do this and I’ve been doing this for a every long time and that’s what’s driving me, it’s that young spirit in me.”
Wilson is much closer to being a senior citizen than he is middle age, but try if you will to tell his multi generation of fans that he should sit down.
Not after the good beginning which brought with it the wild life of being a musician in the 70s-80s and 90s.
Not after that life still of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll landed on the streets of Los Angeles homeless population.
Not after prostrate cancer struck him and nearly brought it all to a crashing conclusion.
The word NOT is NOT in Charlie Wilson’s vocabulary.
Wilson, who is affectionately called Uncle Charlie by some, passionately reflected upon one of his inspirations, the late Rick James.
“I look back at Rick James and the reason why mentioned him is because 10 years ago he was looking over my shoulder and tearing up, and so I asked him what’s wrong and he said you have an angel and I don’t. I was looking back at my wife, and he said you have an angel right there and I don’t have one. I loved Rick James that was my friend and we did a lot of crazy stuff back in the day but the whole thing about is I saw him getting weaker and weaker and weaker and didn’t want to try it a different way.”
Wilson stated that he knew a lot of people who have since died because they thought they were strong enough to do other things, other than putting some good water in you and some exercise instead of being caught up in the party scene.
Today it’s all about work and no play for Wilson.
“Some of my friends tell me today that I work way too hard. I told them no I don’t. I think the people should get what they want when they come to see a show and I think you should leave it all out there. Blood, sweat and everything and leave it on the stage.”
He says they told him he’s not even getting the kind of money that he deserves.
“That makes me want to work even harder,” he stated.
A producer, solo who was nominated for eleven Grammy awards and six NAACP Image Awards (including one WIN), received a 2009 Soul Train Icon Award, and was a recipient of a BMI Icon Award in 2005. In 2009, he was named Billboard magazine's No. 1 Adult R&B Artist, and his song "There Goes My Baby" was named the No. 1 Urban Adult Song for 2009 in Billboard Magazine.
BET honored Wilson with a Lifetime Achievement Award that was presented to him by Justin Timberlake. The BET tribute performances included renditions of Wilson's songs performed by India Arie ("There Goes My Baby"), Jamie Foxx ("Yearning for Your Love"), and Stevie Wonder ("Burn Rubber") but it was not until Wilson himself took to the stage at the request of Timberlake to perform his Grammy-nominated song "You Are" and then transition into a medley of hit songs performing alongside Timberlake and surprise guests Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams that Wilson stole the show during the youth-oriented program. The Charlie Wilson tribute helped BET achieve the highest ratings in years for the program and also earned the network the #1 primetime spot in the 18–49 demographic topping all its broadcast and cable competition for the night in both demographics and total viewers.
Wilson is the national spokesman for the Prostate Cancer Foundation where there is a Creativity Award in his name which donates hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to researchers across the country for the development of creative science that conforms to PCF funding principles but is short-term and designed to allow development of otherwise unfunded ideas.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on January 29, the son of the Rev. Oscar Wilson, a minister in the Church of God in Christ. With his older brother Ronnie and younger brother Robert, Wilson often sang in church before their father’s Sunday sermons, accompanied on piano by their mother.
He also sang in his junior high school's choir, which was a precursor to his musical career with The Gap Band and later, his solo career. He attended high school at Booker T. Washington. He attended Langston University and would go on to become drum major in the Langston University Marching Pride.
He has been hailed by cities throughout America for his achievements in the music industry.
But if you were to ask him why he really keeps on going, his best answer would be for the love of it. His wife, his music, his fans, his life. He Loves it!