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Charles Bradley: Soul of America

Co-presented by Centre in the Square • Don't miss Charles Bradley LIVE December 11

A moving encounter with a singer whose big break didn't come until retirement age, Charles Bradley: Soul of America offers a vivid working-class backdrop and a voice expressive enough to wow the most demanding Soul music fans.

We meet Bradley in a Brooklyn housing project much too tough for a man this sweet-natured. Bradley, who only recently started learning to read, kicked around the country for decades struggling to make ends meet. But a supposed resemblance to James Brown and an obsession with Brown's stagecraft fueled a continuing interest in performing, and Bradley eventually found a following in New York as "Black Velvet," a Brown impersonator.

Bradley might have remained a local curiosity the rest of his life had he not connected with the Daptone Records crew, soul revivalists best known for working with Amy Winehouse and issuing records by Sharon Jones. Recognizing raw talent to be molded, they set to work pairing him with suitable material.

Interviews with producer and bandleader Thomas Brenneck illuminate a process of writing material and making existing songs speak to Bradley's pain-filled biography, moving from 7-inch singles to the LP, No Time For Dreaming, released in 2011. Filmmaker Poull Brien uses that debut date as a centerpiece, a format which generates some drama for viewers who don't know how well the record performed in its neo-soul niche.

Those viewers and others will be gratified to see Bradley's eventual encounters with a mass of fans who embrace him for himself instead of his James Brown act; few will be unmoved by his devotion to a mother who abandoned him for long stretches of his youth. And only the soulless will fail to respond to footage of this passionate, powerful singer doing his thing onstage. - John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter

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