Very few artists can lay claim to Charlie Wilson’s hitmaker status.
Twice named Billboard’s Top Adult Male R&B Artist, Wilson kick-started the new decade with not one but two No. 1 Adult R&B Songs hits: “Forever Valentine” and “One I Got.” Then he wrapped the year by also breaking that chart’s record as the Top Adult Male Artist with the most No. 1’s in three decades.
Since scoring his first top 10 R&B hit in 1979 as co-founder/lead singer for R&B/funk pioneers the Gap Band, Wilson continues to defy the odds. For in a career that stretches more than four decades — and multiple generations of fans — Wilson has not only become a force on the charts but also onstage. And he has simultaneously become the go-to collaborator for many fellow stars.
What ties it all together, says the 13-time Grammy Award nominee, is being able to tap back into the passion that bubbled to the surface when he began performing in church at four years old. “It was fun and felt good,” Wilson recalls with a laugh. “That’s when singing first became something I didn’t want to ever let go.”
Sidelined from touring by the pandemic, Wilson has spent the last 18 months re-energizing by writing and recording songs “celebrating women” for the follow-up to his seventh solo album, 2017’s In It to Win It. Hinting that fans will be surprised at the who’s who of guests he has on deck, Wilson is returning full circle to the independent roots that fostered his solo career. It was in 2000 that he and longtime manager Michael Paran released the singer-songwriter’s breakthrough solo album Bridging the Gap. Wilson earned his first No. 1 R&B hit that same year with the set’s lead single, “Without You.”
“The music industry is changing, shifting more to an independent model,” says Paran, founder/CEO of P Music Group, Inc. “With our own label infrastructure including distribution as well as in-house writers and producers, Charlie is recording some great records. We’re going to come out of this pandemic reset big.”
Meanwhile, Wilson continues to cement his reputation as everyone’s favorite uncle and guest collaborator. Alongside Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, he sings “Wish Me Luck,” the opening theme for the new 2021 STARZ original series Black Mafia Family. Wilson’s vocals also grace Grammy Award-winning Best Rap Albums from Nas (King’s Disease, 2021), Tyler, The Creator (Igor, 2020) and Kanye West (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2012). In addition to an appearance on Nas’ latest No. 1 album King’s Disease II, Wilson’s MVP credits extend to projects from Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Hit-Boy. And that’s not counting his work with hip-hop next-geners Chika, Aminé, Brockhampton, Guapdad 4000 and O.T. Genasis.
“I have a very young spirit that likes to play with music,” says Wilson of his versatility. “I’m always paying attention and listening to everything that’s going on — and also thanking God that my voice keeps people calling.”
Two such calls, involving Bruno Mars and Smokey Robinson, spawned Wilson’s most recent hits. Mars co-wrote/co-produced and provided backing vocals on the romantic romp “Forever Valentine.” Lightning struck once more when Wilson and Motown icon Robinson’s awesome vocal melding yielded the refreshing throwback “All of My Love.”
Prior to becoming a solo star, Wilson and the Gap Band amassed fans with high-energy stage shows and a slew of hits over a 10-year span — “Outstanding,” “Yearning for Your Love,” “Burn Rubber on Me” and “Early in the Morning” — that are now among the industry’s most sampled songs. But fame came with a high cost. Descending into drug addiction, a homeless Wilson fought for sobriety through his faith and love of music.
In tandem with recording again, Wilson began re-solidifying his status as an electrifying concert draw. He graduated to his first headlining AEG- and P Music Group-produced arena tour in 2015 with Forever Charlie. His second sold-out, headlining arena tour in 2017 placed Wilson in third place among the genre's top five R&B touring acts that year. He has since performed on the Hyde Park Festival's main stage in London and headlined a two-night stand at the Hollywood Bowl. Then he was handpicked by self-professed super fan Mars to open seven shows on the latter’s 24K Magic World Tour finale.
The busy singer-songwriter has been lending his services to other projects. The Tulsa native is the lone special guest on Fire in Little Africa, Motown Records’ compilation commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. In fact, the Gap Band adopted its name from three streets known collectively as Black Wall Street in Wilson’s former neighborhood: Greenwood, Archer and Pine. In addition, at the request of director Lee Daniels, Wilson recorded “The Devil and I Got Up to Dance a Slow Dance” from the film The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
A BET Lifetime Achievement honoree, Wilson is also a New York Times and Washington Post best-selling author. His frank, inspirational memoir, I Am Charlie Wilson, chronicles his fight against addiction. Wilson is now 26 years sober and a 12-year prostate cancer survivor: wins that he is most proud of beyond any professional accolades.
But Wilson is ever mindful of what else continues to inspire and propel him. “I promised God that if he got me off the streets and gave me back what I love —making music and singing — that I’d promise to shout him out every single night. And I do because I’m the guy who went down in flames … but was allowed to rise from the ashes.”