This is perhaps one of the most beautiful music videos I’ve ever seen.
On September 23rd, 2017, Charles Bradley passed away in Brooklyn, New York, after battling with stomach cancer. I spent that entire week playing Charles’ music on repeat. Then, and even now, my eyes well up with tears every time I listen to his music. Charles’ music and energy had such a profound impact on me moments after I first heard him.
The song I’ve included below is increadibly heart wrenching when you know a bit more about Charles’ life. After growing up with his grandmother in Gainesville, Florida, his mother took eight year old Charles to live with her in Brooklyn, New York. At age 14, Charles’ bedroom was a basement with a sandfloor, and unable to deal with such poor living conditions, Charles ran away. For years he lived on the streets and slept on subway cars.
Charles had a small band in the 70s, but they were forced to disband when his bandmates were drafted into the Vietnam War. Over the coming years, he hitchhiked across the country and eventually settled in California in 1977 where he worked odd jobs and would do James Brown performances for extra cash. In 1994, he received a call from his mother asking him to come back to Brooklyn so she could get to know him. In Brooklyn, Charles was able to make a living with his James Brown performances and was eventually noticed by Gabriel Roth, a co-founder of Daptone Records. In 2011, Charles released his debut album, and finally launched a career of his own.
Now that you know a bit of Charles’ story, you’ll feel the weight of “Why Is It So Hard.” It also seems appropriate to share this song now, considering the horrendous tax bill which was just passed here in the states which will certainly affect families like the one Charles had growing up.
I remember listening to this 4 years ago when Justin Amoafo first shared it, and thinking about how surreal this subway jazz sounded. Coming back to listen to this now that I’m living in New York, that surrealness is only amplified.