Nine-time Grammy nominee. Showman extraordinaire. Hit-making singer/songwriter whose second act is trumping his legendary first run. Not many contemporary artists can lay claim to such superlatives. Charlie Wilson can.
And Wilson, co-founder of iconic funk trio the Gap Band, has no intentions of slowing down. He wrapped 2014 with two Grammy nominations—Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song—for “Bound 2,” his pairing with lead artist Kanye West. Arriving on the heels of that news: the announcement of Wilson’s eight-week “Forever Charlie” national arena tour, kicking off Feb. 12 with special guests Kem and Joe.
Then just weeks before P Music Group/RCA’s Jan. 27 release of his sixth solo album, also titled Forever Charlie, Wilson locked in yet another hit with lead single, “Goodnight Kisses.” Currently climbing Billboard’s Adult R&B chart, on which Wilson has had a grand total of 18 hits thus far including eight No. 1s, among them “My Love Is All I Have,” “You Are,” “Without You” and “There Goes My Baby.”
So what’s the secret behind Wilson’s ongoing contemporary foothold? Start with emotion-packed, full-bodied vocals and real-life lyrics that soar above the formulaic, auto-tuned clutter that dictates most of popular music. As Billboard relates in its review of “Goodnight Kisses”: “Over snap-and-swing doo-wop-inspired production, the Gap Band co-founder sings sweetly about his loved one’s smooches. At 61 years old, Wilson is still as convincing a romantic as ever.”
Another standout track on Forever Charlie’s romance front is the moving “Touched by an Angel.” But love songs aren’t Wilson’s sole forte as he showcases to full effect on Forever Charlie. In a nod to the solid funk that the Gap Band laid down, Wilson reveals more of his up-tempo persona. “I wanted to try some other things for fun, to relive some of the Gap Band moments,” he explains. “I wanted to create something funky, a retro feel but with new flavor to it.”
One such track is the percolating “Infectious” featuring Snoop Dogg. Shaggy, another Wilson “famous nephew,” hops on board the reggae-flavored “Unforgettable.” Meanwhile, packing heat reminiscent of the Gap Band’s No. 1 classic “Burn Rubber” is “Sugar. Honey. Ice. Tea.” Another standout, however, also doubles as a momentous occasion: “Hey Lover.” The up-tempo concoction marks Wilson’s first-time collaboration with Grammy-winning songwriter/producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.
In addition to Jam & Lewis, Wilson’s Forever Charlie collaborators include longtime P Music Group colleagues Gregg Pagani and Emile Ghantous. The latter, in tandem with Steve Daly and Keith Hetrick, comprise the P Music team “Cartoons,” which produced four tracks on the new album.
Of course, you can’t talk about Wilson’s staying power without referencing his explosive live show. Averaging 50-60 concerts a year, the indefatigable performer has become a must-see, can’t-top staple at the annual Essence Music Festival. He counts a total of eight performances there so far, six of which have been consecutive to date. And that’s not counting repeated headliner stints at other major urban festivals: Macy’s Music Festival, Hampton Jazz, San Diego Music Festival, Las Vegas Music Festival and the Arizona Jazz Festival.
And who can forget the roof-raising lifetime achievement tribute to Wilson at the BET Awards in 2013? The star-studded performance, featuring Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, India Arie and Jamie Foxx, remains one of the annual awards show’s singular, top-rated moments.
That Wilson garners such respect from peers and fans alike is a testament to the creative, performing and survival skills he honed during his initial career heyday with the Gap Band. Raised by a minister father and mother, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Gap Band hit the charts running in the late ‘70s and ‘80s with a string of hits including “Outstanding, “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” “Yearning For Your Love,” “Early in the Morning” and “All of My Love.” The group retired in 2010.
Working through the lows of drug and alcohol addiction, Wilson signed to Jive (folded into RCA in 2012) in 2004 after landing his first No. 1 Billboard Urban AC hit in 2000, “Without You.” His gold-certified Jive debut, 2005’s Charlie Last Name Wilson, yielded a top 15 R&B single via the title track. Uncle Charlie arrived in 2009, securing two Grammy nominations: Best R&B Album and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for the hit single “There Goes My Baby.” A year later, Wilson stepped back up to the plate with Just Charlie and his biggest hit to date, “You Are.” Spending 13 consecutive weeks at No. 1, the song scored Grammy nods for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance. That was followed in 2013 by Love, Charlie, which spun off the hit “My Love Is All I Have.” 2014 found Wilson garnering yet another Grammy nomination for “If I Believe” in the Best Gospel Song category.
“Looking back, I wouldn’t have believed I’d be where I am right now,” says Wilson, who also survived a bout with prostate cancer and became a spokesperson for the Prostate Cancer Foundation in 2008. He is now cancer free and continues to use his stage as a platform to educate men and their families about the importance of yearly checkups and conversations with their health care providers. “I was honored to be a part of the Stand Up 2 Cancer telethon last year,” he states. “It’s important to spread the word.” “That’s why I shout every night at my concerts because I thank God for allowing me to be here.”
Throughout his long-running career, Wilson has stayed true to who he is musically and creatively while simultaneously raising the bar each time. His creative relationship with “nephew” Snoop Dogg has morphed into collaborations with numerous contemporary hitmakers including Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Pharrell, R. Kelly and T-Pain. He will be making several vocal appearances on Snoop Dogg’s highly anticipated new album, “Bush” produced by Pharrell Williams.
In addition to his nine Grammy nominations and the 2009 Soul Train Icon Award, Wilson was named Billboard’s No. 1 Adult Artist in 2009 and received the BMI Icon Award in 2005.
Now Wilson brings his heart and soul back to the forefront with Forever Charlie. “If you just want to hug up on your girl, I’ve got those records,” he declares with a laugh. “And if you want to dance, those records are there too. That’s why I call it Forever Charlie—because I’m not ever going anywhere.”