"I've been singing," Charles Bradley tells me, over a crackling phone connection, his soul shouter's voice raspy and weathered. "I've been singing since I was 16 years old." Mr. Bradley, the Florida-born and Brooklyn-raised singer who for years made a living as a James Brown impersonator – his stage name was Black Velvet – and a chef, is finally being heard.
At the age of 63.
Tonight at a sold-out Lee's Palace, he will sing some more – about the murder of his brother, and, when he profoundly does his Neil Young cover, about mining for a heart of gold. "When I go onstage, I open up totally," says Mr. Bradley, not lying at all. "Maybe some of the things that I've been through, and that I came through with a humble heart, will help people who are going through some of the same things I'm going through. And maybe it'll let them know that if you keep your honesty and your faith and your dignity, somebody, somehow, somewhere will find you."
The second single off Mr. Bradley's album No Time For Dreaming is the ballad Heartaches and Pain, a song very much about those things. In an essay in the new book Blues: Philosophy for Everyone, David C. Drake wrote that by beautifying his sorrow, the soul singer beautifies his life story, and, in doing so, beautifies himself. Mr. Bradley, after an epic, raw journey, has never looked finer.
Charles Bradley plays Lee's Palace, 9 p.m. $22.50 (sold out). 529 Bloor St. W., 1-855-985-5000.