America’s favorite uncle Charlie Wilson has been serenading music lovers since he was a teen singing for his brother’s band back in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As the lead singer of The Gap Band, the soulster’s musical anthology offered his fans the perfect balance of gritty soul and smooth R & B. Gap Band classics such as “Outstanding,” “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” and “Yearning For Your Love” earned the three brother’s loyalists. Now, Wilson continues to move the crowd with his latest effort, “Uncle Charlie.” ESSENCE.com caught up with Wilson to discuss the secret to his cross-generational appeal, why he wants Black men to educate themselves about prostate cancer and reuniting with his brothers.
ESSENCE.COM: Mr. “Charlie Last-Name-Wilson” you are legend! Why are you America’s favorite uncle?
CHARLIE WILSON: Because when you’re daddy has you on punishment and would only give you $20, I’m the dude that will slip you $100 and let you sneak out and borrow my Benz . Also, I can tell you whether you’re going down the wrong road and help you back up out of there and point you in the direction where you need to be headed. That’s why I’m Uncle Charlie.
ESSENCE.COM: We all need an Uncle Charlie in our lives. Your new album which is aptly titled “Uncle Charlie” is a musical gumbo and reunites you with vocoder master T-Pain. Do you feel any pressure to skew your music to younger audiences?
WILSON: Not at all. I listen to all kinds of music and I’m a fan of a lot of these younger artists. I work with people like Jamie Foxx and T-Pain and yes they help me to bridge the gap, but it’s no pressure where I have to go and solicit these artists. I don’t want to be stuck doing ballads I have to continue moving forward and shouldn’t be crucified for my creative choices. Sometimes you might like my music and sometimes not, but if you’re a fan, then be a fan.
ESSENCE.COM: We are so happy to hear that you are in good health and great spirits after an early diagnosis of prostate cancer and now have joined forces with the Prostate Cancer Foundation to address this issue with Black men. Why have you become so passionate about this?
WILSON: I’ve battled drug and alcohol addiction, I was homeless and now I’m battling cancer so I’m not afraid to talk about it. Black men are two times more likely to die from prostate cancer so we need to get checked. The sooner the better. All I was thinking was here comes Satan again. When the doctor gave me the news my heart dropped to the floor. All I thought was, What have I done to deserve all of this? This must be it for me. I just knew the chemo would destroy all my good cells. Thank God my wife picked my face up off the floor and asked the doctor, “What’s the good news?” And he said this is the early stage and I began the seed radiation. I chose the seeds that last six to eight weeks and are placed into your prostate and it targets the cancer and takes care of it right there. I also wanted to make sure it didn’t mess with my sexual performance either because I have a wife. You know, I’m not just turning it out on stage for my fans (Laughs.)
ESSENCE.COM: (Laughs.) You’re a mess! We’re happy to hear that you’re still going strong and staying positive. How long were you homeless and dealing with your addictions?
WILSON: I was living in alleys in Hollywood for a couple of years. It was the rags to riches, riches to rags, rags to curb and curb to homelessness story. I used to get high with a cousin of mine and one day she saw me on the street after she had been clean for nearly three years and told me how bad I looked and how I needed to get it together. I went to this rehab center and it was a 28-day program. I remember when I went there I still had drugs in my pocket trying to take them and this female coordinator asked me if I had any and took them from me. God was saving my life even then because taking those drugs might have busted my heart, who knows? When the program was over that coordinator who had no idea who I was, offered to help me because I broke down and told her I had nowhere to go. She got me a house, furnished it and we’ve been married ever since for 15 years (laughs.)
ESSENCE.COM: That’s a beautiful love story. You’ve been blessed as well as blessing so many others as a solo artist and the former front man of the legendary Gap Band. Will there ever be a reunion?
WILSON: Well, I never left the band. Our lives just took different paths. I’m performing all the time and of course I’m performing our songs during my shows. I’d love to but my brothers are busy with their own lives. Ronnie is a pastor in Texas and committed to the responsibilities that come with that job. He loves his ministry and that is the priority in his life. Robert is the “whippersnapper” of our family and it’s hard to put your finger on him. So, it’s not a closed door, but depends on all our schedules. As far as the other members of the band, we are not in constant touch but they are always there for me if ever I need them. Right now I’m just building my strength, staying positive and counting my blessings every day.