Born Charles Kent Wilson on January 29, 1953, in Tulsa, OK; son of the Rev. Oscar Wilson (a Pentecostal minister) and Irma Wilson; married, wife's name Mahin (a substance abuse rehabilitation center director). Education: Attended high school in Tulsa. Religion: Church of God in Christ. Addresses: Record company--Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404.
With his 2000 album release Bridging the Gap, Charlie Wilson became one of the few leading figures of 1980s R&B to mount a successful comeback in the changed musical landscape of the turn of the century. As the lead vocalist of the trio of performing brothers that went by the name of the Gap Band, Wilson had propelled the group to a consistent string of major hits. His reemergence a decade later was due not only to musical talent, but also perhaps to spiritual rebirth.
Charlie Wilson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on January 29, 1953; he was 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. Secular music was forbidden at home, but the brothers smuggled music by the likes of James Brown into the house. "When I heard Stevie Wonder's 'Fingertips,'" Wilson told Rolling Stone, "it was like, 'I can sing like that, Mom.' My mother said, "Go to bed! Go to bed! You're not going to sing that blues."
Took Name from Neighborhood Streets
What became the Gap Band grew out of jam sessions held in neighborhood garages in the brothers' Tulsa neighborhood. The group's original name, in its first incarnations around 1970, was the Greenwood Archer and Pine Street Band, referring to major streets in the neighborhood where the brothers grew up; that was later shortened (at first as the result of a typographical error on a poster advertising one of the band's performances) to the acronym Gap Band. In the year 2001 a nearby street, intersecting both Greenwood and Pine, was renamed Gap Band Avenue in recognition of the band's accomplishments.
After the addition of Charlie Wilson to the Gap Band as lead vocalist in 1973, the band's fortunes began to improve beyond gigs in small Tulsa clubs. At a performance at the International Club in 1974 the band was spotted by an acquaintance of the iconoclastic country rock singer, Leon Russell, a familiar figure in Texas and Oklahoma musical circles due to his long beard and mane of silver hair. Invited to audition at Russell's studio, the band encountered a hostile attitude from the singer at first. But that attitude evaporated after two hours of playing, after which the Gap Band had been hired as Russell's backup ensemble. They toured with Russell for several years, also working with Russell's friend Willie Nelson for a time.
The Gap Band's little-known debut album was released in 1974 on Russell's own Shelter label. It barely made an impact on the charts at the time, however, and when Russell dropped the band as accompanists in the mid-1970s, the brothers found themselves without a record label. "Leon Russell got us on our feet, took us around the rock & roll world, then he kicked us out of his nest," Wilson told Rolling Stone. Wilson led his brothers to Los Angeles, where they recorded a gospel single, "This Place Called Heaven," for the A&M label and won industry notice for the album The Gap Band, released on the RCA label's Tattoo subsidiary.
Signed with Mercury
Finally the group struck paydirt after signing with the Mercury label and joining forces with impresario, Lonnie Simmons, a record executive and former nightclub owner who honed their sound as producer and as cowriter of several of the hits that started to come around 1980. The 1980 releases "Shake" and "I Don't Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops, Upside Your Head)," the latter inspired by a refrain chanted by fans at a Pittsburgh concert given by the band, reached the R&B top 10. In December of that year, the Gap Band had its first R&B number one single, "Burn Rubber (on Me)." The album from which "Burn Rubber" and its successor "Yearning for Your Love" were drawn, Gap Band III, was certified platinum for sales of over one million copies.
At the center of the band's success were the vocals of Charlie Wilson; in the words of Rolling Stone at the time he "looks like a young version of Wilson Pickett and sings like Stevie Wonder." In 1985 the magazine called him "the best singer in pop music today, the unacknowledged heir to the tradition of Cooke and Redding." Several of his numbers began with a unique and inimitable vocal device that lay somewhere between a yodel and a scream, and his vocals had the rare capacity to communicate romantic passion over a hard funk beat.
The band notched several more platinum albums, enjoyed three more number one R&B singles ("Early in the Morning" and "Outstanding," both from 1982, and 1989's "All of My Love"), and crossed over to the pop Top 40. Perhaps their most enduring song, "You Dropped a Bomb on Me," reached only the number two position. Given 24 hours to devise a theme song for the 1989 film parody I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, the brothers responded with what became another top 15 hit.
"We were just some country boys," Wilson later told Essence in recalling their reactions to their ten-year run of success. "We were like, 'Wow.'" Success took its toll on all the brothers; as younger brother Ronnie Wilson struggled with cocaine addiction (he later turned to Christianity and became a minister), Charlie's songwriting contributions helped keep the group afloat. Charlie Wilson later confessed to Essence that he had been a substance abuser for nearly 20 years, beginning around 1974. In the early 1990s, as the hits dried up for the Gap Band, Wilson hit bottom.
Married Rehab Center Director
In 1994, Wilson spent 28 days in a Los Angeles rehabilitation center. Known as a womanizer during his days as a vocal star, Wilson married the center's director. "With her and God, that's how I made it," he told Essence. "I told [other entertainers] it's a dead end down there. You got the bling-bling with all the babes and it's all a big party, but a few years from now, you won't have anything and everybody's going to be gone. They listen to me because they know Uncle Charlie has been them. And I'm still here today."
Wilson had released a solo album, You Turn My Life Around, in 1992, well before his rehabilitation; it failed to crack the R&B Top 40. Continuing to tour with his brothers in the 1990s, Wilson put his life back together. In 2000 he released a second album, Bridging the Gap, which found strong appeal even among young listeners who hadn't even owned a radio during the Gap Band's heyday but remembered Wilson's sound as one of the hardest-edged of the 1980s. Touring in support of the album, Wilson, in the words of New York Times critic Jon Pareles, "wooed the audience ... like an ex-boyfriend hoping for another chance."
Bridging the Gap took a chance by featuring a romantic ballad, a style not strongly identified with the Gap Band, as the album's lead single. But "Without You" dominated radio playlists in the fall of 2000, and the album as a whole, featuring guest appearances by such contemporary stars as Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Angie Stone, and others, effectively fused hip-hop with Wilson's own style--to which numerous hip-hop acts had paid homage in the form of sampling. "A lot of rap artists wanted to blaze me," Wilson explained to the website sonicnet.com. "I didn't want to put out a CD where I had to depend on hip-hoppers ... to try to win over somebody." Indeed, it seemed that one of the top stars of the 1980s still had a lesson or two to teach contemporary musical audiences.
by James M. Manheim
Charlie Wilson's Career
Vocalist. Sang with brothers Ronnie and Robert Wilson in high school; joined with them to form the Greenwood Archer and Pine Street Band, later shortened to Gap Band; hired by rock musician Leon Russell as backup band, 1974; Gap Band released debut album, Magician's Holiday, on Russell's Shelter label, 1974; moved to Los Angeles, mid-1970s; Gap Band signed with Mercury label, 1979; sang lead vocals and wrote or cowrote most Gap Band hits, 1980s; released solo debut, You Turn My Life Around, 1992; released Bridging the Gap, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Solo albums
- You Turn My Life Around Bon Ami, 1992.
- Bridging the Gap Interscope, 2000.
- With the Gap Band
- Magician's Holiday Shelter, 1974.
- The Gap Band Tattoo, 1977.
- The Gap Band II Mercury, 1979.
- The Gap Band III Mercury, 1980.
- The Gap Band IV Total Experience, 1982.
- The Gap Band V Total Experience, 1983.
- The Gap Band VI Total Experience, 1985.
- The Gap Band VII Mercury, 1986.
- Straight from the Heart Total Experience, 1987.
- Round Trip Capitol, 1989.
- Best of the Gap Band Mercury, 1994.
- Testimony Rhino, 1994.
- Ain't Nothin' but a Party 1995.
August 23, 2005: Wilson's album, Charlie, Last Name Wilson, was released. Source: All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com, September 14, 2005.
- Hitchcock, H. Wiley and Stanley Sadie, editors., The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Macmillan, 1985.
- Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.
- Romanowski, Patricia and Holly George-Warren, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 1995.
- Essence, June 2001, p. 66.
- Jet, July 23, 2001, p. 13.
- New York Times, October 10, 2000, p. E5.
- Rolling Stone, March 1, 1984, p. 44; March 28, 1985, p. 97.
- USA Today, January 2, 2001, p. D4.
Visitor Comments Add a comment…
over 11 years ago
CHARLES KENT WILSON. You are my idol. If I ever wanted to be a singer I want to be just like you The Gap Band was and still is my ultimate group . From 1977 to 1988 you and your brothers had the funkiest grooves mixed with romantic harmonies with a STEVIE WONDER vocal ranges. I read somewhere that STEVIE WONDER became a fan bcuz I love him also now that's an honor because STEVIE is a much beloved icon whos been around 50 years and still stong. I'm a commercial artist I airbrushed the album with a gap in her teeth when they performed in indiana .UNCLE CHARLIE if u ever in youngstown ohio to perform I want to meet u and name my son after you . A true GAPPER 4 LIFE.
over 11 years ago
I JUST WANT TO SAY THAT i been knowing this man name CHARLIE 'BOY WILSON FOR MORE THAN 59 YEARS AND I KNOW THAT HE IS GOD SON AND HE IS LOVE BY A LOT OF PEOPLE AND WHEN IT COME TO LOVE HE IS COLORE BLINE BECAUSE GOD PUT YOU HERE TO LOVE EVRYONE NOT JUST ONE RACE OF PEOPLE AND I KNON YOUR PARINT DIDEN"T TEACH YOU OTHER THAN TO LOVE EVERY ONE NOT JUST ONE KIND OF LADY SO I"AM GLAD YOU FOUND SOMEONE TO LOVE YOU AND THAT YOU LOVE BE HAPPY ,LOVE YOU CHARLIE BOY TAKE CARE, 11/19/ 2011
about 12 years ago
i love you charlie wilson
over 12 years ago
1ST TIME I EVER SAWCHARLIE WAS A A RECORD STORE IN L.A.LOTTA YRS.,AGO AND I LOVED THE BAND BACK THEN,THER YOU DROPPED A BOMB ON ME WAS BEING PLAYED ALL THE TIME ALL OVER.BUT NOW I'M SO IN LOOOVE WITH THEIR GOES MY BABY,JUST SAW THE VIDEO WITH SHANTE,SNOOP AND CHARLIE, SO AMAZING I LOVE THAT THEY ARE GREAT FRIENDS,AND SHANTE IS SUCH A PRETTY WOMEN,I WILL GO TO SLEEP LISTING TO THAT TUNE TONITE!WHERE DID CHARLIE GET THAT HAT,IT IS THE KOOLEST THING I'VE SEEN IN A LONG TIME,65 AND WOULD LOVE HAVING ONE FOR MY SELF,GUESS I'LL HAVE TO BEJEWEL MY OWN.GOD BLESS YOU CHARLIE AND KEEP ROCKING YOUR TUNES.
over 12 years ago
I met Charlie Wilson AND his wife on the TJMS cruise. He did a great show and she was filled with inner beauty. Who else would have taken a drug addict (not knowing who he was) and give him the help she gave asking nothing in return. Don't hate sisters. Be happy for him.
about 13 years ago
On May 7 Charlie Wilson was here in Kansas City and the show was Awesome. To know the hardships he has been through and and still come out on top is wonderful. All I can say is wow!! He is indeed blessed to have been down , fight Cancer and then be a spokesperson for Prostate Cancer.We serve an awesome god because so many men will be helped by his message .
over 13 years ago
All I have to say is God Bless him!
over 13 years ago
I am glad that Charlie made a great come back and I am glad that he is blessed with a good woman to stand by his side. I saw his interview on BET on this past Sunday and he brought his wife out and Wow! I thought that Michael Jackson had come from the grave and had silicone injection in his lips. She looked awful a grey pasty white with big red lips and bleach blonde hair. She is as white as a ghost and very ugly. I am sure that she is beautiful underneath, but it would take a brave man to find out.
almost 14 years ago
do you know how it is when you know some one that is a star and they let thier money make them.they 4get those poeple they know, it really hard 2 chew mr. charles wilson you are not doing this right do u know that u have a child out here looking 4 u she has post it on my space yahoo,com anything that would let u know that she has a father out there do know one thing she love u
almost 14 years ago
Yes, Denise I was hoping he was single too. But to Peaches, he can only dog us out if we allow him to. I tell my 3 daughters in law who are white, white and hispanic to not allow my sons to disrespect them. I talk to them like I'm there mom. A man can mistreat, hit or cuss you once but is he does it more than once that means you did'nt leave, right? Just another sister(black) keeping it real, ladies don't settle, wait for what you want. Later Ya'll Wanda from Houston, Texas
almost 14 years ago
I was hoping that Charles was single I have always had crush on him and he still looks good. It's obvious that the Lord has put the right woman in his life I wish them all God's blessings.
about 14 years ago
I considered myself to be a old head! I love the t-pains, lil waynes, etc. When it comes to real music, and strong instrumentation. You have to listen to old bands. One of my truly favorites is the GAP band. The music just transends thru generations. Its just GREAT music, and I love the positive impact it has on me and my kids. THANKS UNCLE CHARLIE! I'm glad you are still around and making those wonderful hits!
about 14 years ago
First time I heard the Gap Band was at concert called the Funk Feast in Dallas Tx at the Cotton Bowl I was about 16. I was like who are these guys in the Cowboys suits and fringes, but after listening to them I became their biggest fan and have not missed a concert in almost 30 years everytime they come to the Dallas area. I was totally in love with Charlie and he still look good after all these years.
about 14 years ago
It is outstanding to see a dynamite blast from the past do so well!!! Rap is good but ballads are really great to soothe the mind and reguvenate the heart. Easy listening and encouragement of love. We wish him all the best in future.
over 14 years ago
Well, The new cd just dropped (uncle charlie) and it is ok. I only got the new cd for the song "there goes my lady". This is definitely a good song, and being a chi-town stepper makes me wonder if the video will feature steppers? I still think he has it. I have just one question charlie, why do the brothers always dog out the sisters, then go to the white women or other races and claim "I found me and angel"? to settle down with. I think I will keep him and his music @ arm's length because to me he has no respect for black women to dog them and then marry outside of his race! WHY CHARLIE!!!!
over 14 years ago
I met Charlie while on tour here in Memphis back in 1999 and he was then still with his brothers (The Gap Band). I remember Charlie from the early 80's and from the time I saw the Party Train video I was hooked and always wanted to meet him. I have met his wife Mahin and I am so glad that she came into his life because a man with this kind of talent needs to continue to share it with the world. I never miss Charlie when he comes here and I always go back to chat with him after his shows. He is such a blessing to so many people and his melodious voice just makes me melt. I could listen to him sing phone numbers out of a telephone book, I just love him. Whenever I hear his voice I light up like a child at Christmas. All I can say is that Mahin has a diamond and I think she knows it, because he is fine and his voice is like velvet.
about 15 years ago
I just wanted to comment on Charlie's recent appearance on Snoop Dogg's Fatherhood episode, where Snoop and Shante renewed their marriage vows. I have never been a big proponent of interatial marriage, prefering that black women be with black men. Let me prefence by saying that I have always admired Charlie Wilson, as, as far as I am concerned, Charlie is the Gap Band. No one in the business does runs and rifts like Charlie can, including aaron Hall, R.Kelly (whom I love) or anyone, male or female, that I can think of. Not to mention that he is "foine", not fine, but "foine". Let me say that this 58 yr old grandmother from California, absolutely loves Charlie Wilson, and I love you wife Mahi (I'm sure that isn't spelled correctly) even more, for the love and concern she had for you, and what she did for you, and the music industry, and listening public as a whole. Because I believe, that without her love and positive influence, we possibly would not still have Charlie to bless us with his melifluous tones. (You should have made "Let's Chill", you did it better, lol. May God bless you and your sweet wife with many more years of matrimonial bliss. Please continue to bless us with your special blend of soul funk.
over 15 years ago
Never knew anyone with so much presence. So much more than a just a great voice and great performer, he just draws people to him and, what a laugh!
over 15 years ago
When he beautiful voiced Charles Kent Wilson sung "Without You", did he have anyone in mind or was it just the luck of the Irish to have such a phenominal insight to make this kind of music